Florence Project and Kino Border Initiative React to the Resumption of “Remain in Mexico” and Continuation of Title 42 

Florence Project and Kino Border Initiative React to the Resumption of “Remain in Mexico” and Continuation of Title 42 

“Arriving at a port of entry hoping to receive protection, instead we find a mockery of our dignity. We find rejection and discrimination. An immigration agent told us that, ‘They only come to the U.S. to bring us COVID.’ Even with insults that I will not repeat here, they blamed us. When I wanted to show him my negative COVID test, he wouldn’t let me get near him. Another migration agent told us that he was not going to give us water because everyone else would want water too. Later, they separated me from my family, put me in a vehicle full of mud and garbage, and without asking anything, they expelled me to Mexico. This is my experience, and sadly it is just one of many experiences of the racism that thousands of migrants have experienced in encounters with the CBP under [the] Title 42 policy.” – Alejandro*, a migrant seeking protection in the U.S. who was turned away under Title 42.  

Last week, the Biden Administration both officially resumed the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and extended the Title 42 policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project and the Kino Border Initiative are deeply disappointed and alarmed by both of these decisions, which in tandem double down on racist Trump-era policies and effectively eliminate access to asylum for people at the border.   

MPP, also referred to as the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, forces migrants seeking U.S. protection to wait for many months in notoriously dangerous Mexican border regions while they fight their asylum cases. As we and many other organizations have stated, there is no version of MPP that is not cruel, dangerous, and downright inhumane. Recently, even government officials entrusted with carrying out the policy – including former Immigration Judges and the USCIS Asylum Officers union – have publicly come out against it. Simply put, this policy has been irredeemable since its inception.  

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged many of MPP’s irredeemable flaws in the administration’s second memorandum to terminate the policy, but the plan announced last week essentially mirrors the Trump administration’s version. In fact, the Biden administration actually expanded the parameters for who can be placed into MPP to anyone hailing from the Western Hemisphere, including people from Haiti, Brazil, and other non-Spanish speaking countries. Black asylum seekers who are placed into MPP will endure racism and abuse and are at heightened risk to experience violence while they are forced to wait in Mexico.  

Last week’s memorandum also alluded to generic and hollow promises that the U.S. government would fund or provide shelter, access to legal counsel, and transportation for the new MPP population. Similar promises were made by the Mexican government during the former iteration of MPP, and none of these services ever materialized. Instead, human rights advocates documented at least 1,544 publicly reported cases of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults against asylum seekers in the first iteration of MPP; of these reported attacks, 341 were cases of children returned to Mexico who were kidnapped or nearly kidnapped. Additionally, the Biden administration has promised to exempt certain vulnerable groups – such as persons with known medical conditions or LGBTQ identity, among others – from the new iteration of MPP. However, people with disabilities and medical conditions were still sent to Mexico under the first iteration of MPP. The simple reality is that the U.S. government cannot ensure safe housing and transportation, physical protection, or a fair hearing for all asylum-seekers placed into MPP so long as the policy forces them to remain in Mexico. 

Like MPP, Title 42 similarly forces migrants seeking U.S. protection to wait in dangerous Mexican border regions. However, under Title 42, asylum seekers are expelled without any process whatsoever and are forced to wait indefinitely. Though border crossings have reopened to vaccinated travelers, families and single adults seeking asylum – even those with proof of vaccination or COVID-negative status – are still being expelled without an opportunity to show a fear of persecution in their home country.  

Under the Trump administration, on March 20, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order effectively closing the US border to nearly all asylum seekers by using an obscure public health law regarding quarantine authority. However, they first sought to use the Title 42 authority in 2019, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and former Vice President Pence had to pressure the former CDC director to sign the order in the first place. With this context for the policy, the Biden administration’s claims that they are continuing it in the name of public health are farcical. The policy is rooted in xenophobia and is nothing more than a thinly-veiled migration enforcement mechanism. Numerous medical experts and public health officials, including in both the Trump and Biden administrations, have publicly stated there is no public health justification for this policy. Even Dr. Fauci himself has said that migrants are “absolutely not” driving the spread of COVID-19. Though the Trump administration initially implemented this policy, the Biden administration shoulders the sole responsibility of embracing and normalizing it. 

Despite campaign promises to restore a safe, orderly asylum process, the Biden administration has done the polar opposite by continuing, and in fact expanding, racist, inhumane, anti-immigrant Trump-era policies like MPP and Title 42. With MPP and Title 42 working in conjunction, there is effectively no access to asylum in the United States.  

People we meet in Mexico tell us every single day that they are in grave danger as they wait to seek safety in the U.S. Ana*, a single mother of two young children, fled Guatemala in 2019 after experiencing sexual and physical violence in her home country. She came to the United States seeking asylum in 2019 but, under the previous iteration of MPP, was forced to wait in Mexico instead where she feared for her safety. She told staff members at the Kino Border Initiative, “I don’t want to stay in Mexico because there is a lot of crime. I don’t understand why they send people to court in [Ciudad] Juárez/El Paso, maybe just to make us give up.”  

Another person seeking safety, Juan*, told us: “Title 42 has separated my family. There is no longer any process to request asylum access at the border…How many more people have to die, how many people have to be kidnapped before we end Title 42? Dead people don’t need asylum, living people do.”  

Whether under Title 42 or MPP, there is no gentler or fairer way to send people back to Mexico while they pursue asylum when they are often discriminated against by locals; denied access to shelter, schooling, and employment; and are preyed upon by organized crime and other bad actors, including Mexican authorities themselves. For example, the Kino Border Initiative’s intake data shows that 20% of migrants returned under MPP in 2020 reported experiencing abuse during their migration. Also, in 2020, of those arriving at KBI under MPP, nearly half (48%) were minors, and one in five (21%) were five years old or younger.  

On December 3, 2021, the same day the administration renewed Title 42 and one day after the Biden administration announced its decision to reimplement MPP, more than 80 Catholic Sisters gathered in front of the White House to hold a prayer vigil and to demand the end of these inhumane policies. Kino Border Initiative’s Assistant Director of Education and Advocacy, Sister Tracey Horan SP, told the crowd, “Over and over again the migrants organizing to restore asylum access in Nogales say to me, ‘I just wish President Biden would put himself in our shoes. Surely if he had to sleep on a cold floor, sharing a room with three families for months with no end in sight, he would end Title 42. Surely, if he was held at gunpoint outside his home, if someone attempted to kidnap his child, if he had to try to survive 150 days without access to work or education or medical attention, he would do something to restore asylum access.’”  

Earlier this year, President Biden released a statement on World Refugee Day– an international holiday established to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees– recalling America’s history of being a nation founded by people fleeing persecution. He states, “The United States is proud to stand as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world, and whether it’s taking in those seeking safety or providing more humanitarian relief than any other nation, we’re going to do our part.” Yet, these are empty platitudes at a time when it has never been more difficult to gain entry into the United States to seek asylum.   

Instead, families seeking protection at our southern border are met with rejection, bullying, and mockery. If President Biden wants to live out his Catholic faith, he must work to transform our border into a place of encounter. He must end Title 42 and fully restore access to asylum at the US-Mexico border. 

For months, we’ve called upon the Biden administration to act immediately to end all Trump-era policies that restrict access to protection in the United States and focus its efforts and considerable resources allocated to immigration enforcement to build a safe, orderly, and just asylum process. The Biden administration has failed to do so. We now call upon the American people to demand more of its President, and we call upon both Congress and the courts to end this racist, inhumane program once and for all. 

*Names changed to protect privacy.