The Trump administration's 'Remain in Mexico' program forced thousands of immigrants back across the southern border into inhumane conditions as they awaited asylum.
Republican lawmakers are attempting to reinstate a Trump administration policy that required immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border to remain across in Mexico, often in inhumane conditions, while they waited for their cases to wind through the immigration system.
On Wednesday, GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale (MT) introduced a bill called the "Return Excessive Migrants and Asylees to International Neighbors (REMAIN) in Mexico Act," directing the Homeland Security Department to continue implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols, the official name of the "Remain in Mexico" policy implemented under Donald Trump.
The policy was first announced in 2019, and now has about 70,000 asylum seekers enrolled and awaiting U.S. court hearings for admission into the country, according to the Associated Press. Mexico had agreed to take back the asylum seekers that year, fearing Trump's tariff threats, the wire service noted.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden suspended the policy. He then announced in February his plan to gradually process approximately 25,000 asylum seekers with active cases in the program and allow them into the United States starting on Feb. 19.
Rosendale, along with 19 other Republican co-sponsors of the bill, are not happy about Biden's recent decision, arguing in a Feb. 24 press release that his legislation to extend the policy "will deter illegal immigration, help Border Patrol secure our border, and keep the rest of our country safe."
Rosendale was notably one of nine GOP lawmakers who toured the border wall in early February, slamming the Biden administration for ceasing its construction. Other Republican members of Congress have similarly pushed hard-line immigration policies, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Trump administration's policy was famously panned as a humanitarian disaster. Migrants forced to wait across the border were often subjected to squalid conditions in tent cities, where they were exposed to the elements and outside threats.
"These are the terrible conditions kids and their families are living in due to President Trump’s cruel #RemainInMexico policy. This is inhumane, and it is wrong," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) after visiting across the border in January 2020.
That same month, former Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) posted a live Twitter video from one of the tent communities, saying, "What you see in terms of people sleeping on the ground and living in tents or under tarps is something that you would see in a refugee camp in Syria, and it's right across the border, and our country has created the circumstances to make this happen."
A Feb. 15 Tampa Bay Times report noted that in a Matamaros, Mexico, tent camp near the Texas border, asylum seekers suffered below-freezing temperatures, frozen water, and electricity outages amid the onslaught of the winter storm that recently wreaked havoc across the region.
One Honduran man told the paper, "We are frozen here. ... There's so much cold."
Rosendale's bill, which is unlikely to pass the current Democratic House majority, comes just days after the Biden administration began processing asylum seekers in the program. On Feb. 19, as Biden had promised, the first 25 migrants were processed through California's San Diego-Tijuana border, LAist reported. Another 25 people were processed on Monday.
California Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan (D), who was at the state's San Ysidro port of entry on Feb. 22, told the outlet that "about a year ago, I saw in person the inhumane living conditions in an MPP encampment in Matamoros, Mexico. It was heartbreaking to see the pain, suffering and danger migrants faced as a result of this un-American policy intended to curb our asylum system."
Now, she said, "people are being reunited and staying with their family members."
"In one case today, we had a woman who was going to Philadelphia with her young three-year-old girl, who had been waiting [in Mexico] for 14 months," she added.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told Barragan the agency will be able to process around 100 cases per day for the time being, according to the publication.
Biden's decision to roll back the Migrant Protection Protocols are part of a broader push for immigration reform. On Feb. 18, Democrats unveiled a comprehensive bill, which included many of Biden's proposals, that would pave the way for around 11 million undocumented immigrants to become U.S. citizens. Biden and Democratic lawmakers have admitted they may need to use a "piecemeal" strategy to get some of the legislation across the finish line.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also released new guidelines with stricter criteria on deportations, which could protect thousands of undocumented immigrants. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to revert back to the Trump administration's draconian immigration policies, which resulted in thousands of deportations per year.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.