The United States has sent the first two people to Mexico under a reinstated Trump-era policy that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their US court cases.
The two men were returned at a border crossing in Ciudad Juarez opposite El Paso, Texas, under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).
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US President Joe Biden’s administration and the Mexican government announced last week that they had reached an agreement to relaunch the controversial programme, also known as “Remain in Mexico”.
The move drew widespread condemnation from international observers and human rights groups that have denounced the policy as “a humanitarian disaster” that puts the lives of asylum seekers at risk in violence-ridden Mexican border towns.
CBP told us the 2 adult men returned to Cd. Juárez at 9:20am today, the first people subjected to Remain in Mexico/MPP 2.0, would be the only MPP returns today. CBP escorted them to the MX boundary line at the center of the bridge, where Mexican immigration and military met them. https://t.co/FVdkumOLza pic.twitter.com/oDEyc0aU2x
— Julia Neusner (@JuliaNeusner) December 8, 2021
One of the two men returned to Mexico under the policy on Wednesday, who identified himself as Enrique Manzanares from Nicaragua, said he felt a little sad but gave thanks to God that he was still alive.
“In the end, nothing was lost,” Manzanares told the Reuters news agency. “Some of us make it, others don’t.”
A Mexican official confirmed the restart of MPP, saying it would be limited on Wednesday to just the two men.
The Mexican foreign ministry said last week that the programme’s reinstatement was conditional on the US offering COVID-19 vaccines to asylum seekers and exempting vulnerable groups.
Under MPP, which was first put in place by former US President Donald Trump in 2019, some 70,000 asylum seekers, including children, were subjected to cartel violence and lived in squalid camps for months, and even years, in border towns in Mexico.
On his first day in office, Biden ended new enrollments in the programme, saying the policy was cruel, and in June, the MPP was formally ended. But two US states – Texas and Missouri – sued the administration, saying the policy was terminated improperly.
In August, a Trump-appointed judge in Texas ruled in the states’ favour and ordered the Biden administration to reinstate the programme.
A spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Wednesday said the Department of Homeland Security has for now begun the court-mandated re-implementation of MPP at one location.
“For operational security reasons, DHS is not sharing details such as location of initial returns or number of individuals enrolled,” the CBP spokesperson told Reuters.
Once fully operational, MPP returns will take place at seven ports of entry in San Diego, Calexico, Nogales, El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo, and Brownsville, the CBP said.
Rights organisations have blasted the Biden administration for reinstating the programme.
“The policy is fundamentally unjust and is being used as an illegal deterrent to turn the border – a place where people can legally seek asylum – into a site rampant for human rights crises and abuses,” Tami Goodlette, director of litigation at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), said in a statement last week.
“The Biden administration must understand that there is no way to reinstate the so-called ‘Migrant Protection Protocols’ in a moral or humane way,” she said.
Biden, who campaigned on promises to put in place more humane immigration practices, has reversed several of Trump’s hardline immigration policies.
But amid record-high numbers of arrivals at the US-Mexico border, Biden has kept in place “Title 42” – another policy first imposed by Trump that allows US border agents to quickly expel asylum seekers arriving at the border by citing the risks of the coronavirus.
The rule remains in place even as the US has reopened its border with Mexico to non-essential travellers.