The US and Mexican governments have reached an agreement to reinstate the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy under former president Donald Trump, which forced asylum seekers entering the US to remain on the other side of the border while their claims are processed.
The move announced by administration officials follows a federal court order for President Joe Biden’s administration to reinstate the Migrant Protection Protocols programme, which under the Trump administration returned more than 60,000 asylum seekers, stranding thousands of people in potentially dangerous border areas of Mexico while their claims are pending in US courts.
US officials intend to rely on the programme for single adults seeking asylum and are expected to move their cases expeditiously, with all cases moved within 180 days, according to administration officials.
Human rights organisations have condemned the policy, pointing to hundreds of cases of killings, rape, torture, kidnapping and assualts against asylum seekers who could not enter the US within the first two years of the programme under the previous administration, according to a February 2021 report from Human Rights First.
The Biden administration intends to offer Covid-19 vaccines to asylum seekers impacted by the programme, and migrants who fear returning to Mexico will have 24 hours to consult with an attorney before an interview with US immigration agents to determine whether they will enter the programme.
Following Mexico’s agreement, the US will reopen the programme next week, with asylum seekers returning for court hearings in Brownsville, El Paso, Laredo and San Diego.
The programme was suspended at the start of Mr Biden’s presidency and then formally terminated months later.
In August, a federal judge in Texas required that the administration had unlawfully ended the programme and ordered its reinstatement. The Biden administration has repeatedly appealed the ruling, and it does intend to eventually end the policy.
Last week, the Mexican government outlined several humanitarian concerns about restarting the programme, and called on the US to expedite claims, provide asylum seekers with medical care and access to Covid-19 vaccines, and legal aid as they go through the process.