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SPLC: Wind Down of ‘Remain in Mexico’ Critical Step for Tens of Thousands Seeking Protection in the U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden administration today announced the first phase of its plan to wind down the "Remain in Mexico" policy. On February 19, the United States will begin processing people who have already been enrolled in the program at several ports of entry. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had already suspended new enrollments in the Trump-era program, officially called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), on the first day of the new administration. 

Melissa Crow, a senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) who is litigating two cases challenging the policy, issued the following statement. 

“This is a critical step for the tens of thousands of men, women and children who have been forced into precarious, life-threatening situations while waiting for their claims for protection to be heard in court. 

“It’s commendable that the Biden administration is following through on its commitment to end this policy and address the humanitarian crisis it has created at the border. But the administration must work to expand this effort to ensure that everyone affected by this policy has a meaningful opportunity to present their asylum claim – including people who received removal orders without even being able to attend their hearings and those with pending appeals.

“This unlawful and callous policy has deprived countless people of a meaningful opportunity to seek protection. We will move closer to a just, humane and functional immigration system when relief is extended to all who have been harmed.”

Background: Legal Challenges to MPP

Two weeks after the government returned the first person under the policy on January 29, 2019, the SPLC, American Civil Liberties Union, and Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed a lawsuit, Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf, challenging the policy on behalf of affected asylum seekers and six legal service providers. 

In April 2019, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the policy. In February 2020, the Court of Appeals affirmed the injunction on the basis that the policy was not authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act. Days later, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the injunction, allowing the government to continue implementing the Remain in Mexico policy. The injunction remains blocked pending review by the Supreme Court.  
In October 2020, the SPLC, in partnership with Innovation Law Lab, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and pro bono partner Arnold & Porter LLP, filed an additional lawsuit challenging the policy on behalf of eight affected asylum seekers and two legal service providers, Jewish Family Service of San Diego and Immigrant Defenders Law Center.

The lawsuit alleges that the Remain in Mexico policy has deprived thousands of asylum seekers of access to legal assistance and other tools needed to meaningfully present their claims. The plaintiffs seek to facilitate the return, following precautions recommended by public health experts, of individual asylum-seeking plaintiffs so they can pursue their claims from within the United States, and to allow legal service organizations to continue their work unencumbered by the challenges of cross-border representation.