Effects of Looming Expansion of 'Remain in Mexico' Policy
WESLACO - A program designed to decrease asylum seeker claims in the U.S. is being expanded to the Rio Grande Valley border.
It's already been in place at El Paso where journalist Robert Moore has been tracking its developments.
He explains the effects it’s had on the border communities.
Gaining lawful entry in El Paso looks different to asylum seekers compared to the process in the Rio Grande Valley.
There, migrants can make their asylum claims in the U.S., but some are returned to Mexico to wait out their immigration proceedings.
When their court date comes up, they cross back into the U.S. to attend.
This is part of the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico.
It started earlier in the year at a few designated ports of entry.
On Friday, the Department of State announced the program was expanded to the "entire Southern Border."
Robert Moore is the president and CEO of El Paso Matters.
He's also been writing on the roll-out and developments of this policy for the Washington Post and Texas Monthly.
He says of MPP, "The one thing it's going to do is it's going to overload your immigration courts."
Moore says the dockets of immigration courts in El Paso rapidly grew when the program went into effect.
"Typically, these people would've fanned out across the country and gone to immigration courts wherever they set up. But now they're going to go to immigration courts along the border," he says.
Judge Ashley Tabaddor, National Association of Immigration Judges President, agreed in a statement she provided to CHANNEL FIVE NEWS. She said,
"Right now, the two courts handling MPP dockets are San Diego and the El Paso non-detained courts. The numbers are rapidly growing and the agency is scheduling the judges' dockets beyond capacity. There is expectation that the program will grow to include other courts along the border, but we don't have any official word on which one(s) will be next."
Restricting migrants' access to U.S. territory is part of the strategy outlined in their official statement.
"Aliens will not be permitted to disappear into the U.S. before a court issues a final decision on whether they will be admitted and provided protection under U.S. law. Instead, they will await a determination in Mexico and receive appropriate humanitarian protections there."
A lack of adequate protection in Mexico is a concern; safety and shelter are scare across the border.
Even work is hard to come by, in spite of certain guarantees made by the Mexican government.
Moore says, "Mexico has agreed, for example, to give MPP participants humanitarian visas that would allow them to work. They have made promises at the outset of this program. But, to the best of my knowledge, none of the people who I've met who enrolled in MPP in Juarez have work permits. So, they can't work. Housing is uncertain.”
If the migrants do manage to find housing for a year in a cash-strapped border town, they still face the other challenge of restricted access to legal assistance.
"For the non-profits here, many of them have restrictions on their grant money to keep them from going over. And for private sector attorneys, you basically have to give up an entire day to meet with one client in what may be dangerous conditions," explains Moore.
The government contends that the program "will reduce the extraordinary strain on our border security and immigration system."
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