EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Local governments and the faith-based community are preparing to assist additional migrants as the Biden administration considers re-instating the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.
Also known as “Remain in Mexico,” the Trump-era policy forced more than 65,000 asylum-seekers to wait in Mexican border cities like Juarez, Tijuana, and Matamoros to be called up to court dates in the United States. Advocates and international watchdog groups documented thousands of crimes – ranging from robbery and extortion to rape and murder – committed against the migrants since 2018.
President Joe Biden suspended MPP when he took office, but a Department of Homeland Security official last week told a federal judge the administration plans to comply with a court mandate to resume the program. The ruling is the result of a lawsuit brought by Texas and Missouri.
The Mexican government has not said yet if it will go along with Biden as it did with Trump.
“We understand this might happen. We haven’t had official communication from the Mexican federal government yet, but our instruction from Gov. Maru Campos is to provide humanitarian attention and reinforce our local capacity to receive people in need,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua Population Council, which operates the Migrant Assistance Center in Juarez.
Valenzuela said Juarez hasn’t stopped dealing with newly arrived migrants from Southern Mexico, Central America and elsewhere despite the suspension of MPP.
“Our work has been constant; it hasn’t changed much. We’ve always dealt with people in transit, then we had those (returned) under MPP, then we saw displaced Mexicans coming here, then the Title 42 expulsions. The issue of local (shelter and services) capacity has been a constant one,” he said.
Title 42 is a Trump-era policy left in place by Biden that allows federal officers to expel newly arrived migrants to Mexico swiftly to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Dylan Corbett, executive director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute, expressed disappointment at the imminent reinstatement of the MPP program.
“What you will have perhaps as early as next month is layers of policy – MPP and Title 42 – blocking migrants and refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Corbett said. “There is no way to re-institute MPP in a way that is safe or humane. If you have an unjust policy on top of another unjust policy, we’re going to see a significant exacerbation of human need and vulnerability across the border.”
The challenges include additional populations in need of shelter, food, medical, legal and psychological services they cannot afford.
“’Remain in Mexico’ produces a long-term population because the U.S. asylum system is so broken you will be (in Mexico) a long time. That implies long-term needs for families and children,” Corbett said. “It also incentivizes criminality. You will see an increase in extortion, kidnapping and in some cases murder (of migrants) in Juarez.”
Corbett and Valenzuela said international nonprofits and church-based volunteers have excelled in assisting migrants in Juarez expelled from the U.S. or on the way there.
“It was the broader faith community that stood up to meet the needs of migrants in Juarez. That included evangelicals, Jewish, Protestant and Anglican communities,” Corbett said.
A Catholic priest runs Casa del Migrante, the largest nonprofit shelter in Juarez, and a Protestant former street preacher runs the second-largest, Good Shepherd, in the foothills. An Anglican group operates a quarantine site for new arrivals in South Juarez, while a UN agency supervises the COVID-19 filter hotel and clinic at the former site of the Flamingo Hotel.
MPP “is not a new phenomenon but it does bring new challenges,” Valenzuela said. “But thanks to community organizations from both sides of the border and the participation of local governments, churches and international actors like the United Nations, it has been possible to manage this complex and changing phenomenon.”
But the Mexican official warned that “capacity is not unlimited.”