The Biden administration said Thursday it’s preparing to reinstate by mid-November former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program for asylum seekers — but only if Mexico agrees to it amid a continued surge of illegal immigrants.
A federal judge in August ordered the administration to restart the program as illegal border crossings hit sustained 21-year monthly highs with 1.5 million arrests in fiscal 2021.
The Remain in Mexico policy requires most asylum seekers who reach the southern border — usually after traveling from Central America or the Caribbean — to remain in Mexico while US courts review their claims of persecution.
President Biden scrapped the policy this year after campaigning on welcoming asylum seekers. He kept in place a different, unevenly enforced COVID-19 policy that allows for the immediate expulsion of adults who illegally cross the border.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that “DHS is taking necessary steps to comply with the court order, which requires us to reimplement [the program] in good faith.”
But the DHS statement added, “Mexico is a sovereign nation that must make an independent decision to accept the return of individuals without status in Mexico as part of any reimplementation of [the program].”
Mexico’s foreign ministry said Thursday that it expressed a “number of concerns” to US officials — signaling the resumed program may not be an easy sell.
A senior Mexican official told Reuters “there is no decision at this point” about restarting the program.
Trump secured Mexico’s agreement to the policy in 2019 after repeatedly threatening economic consequences. At one point, he threatened to close the US-Mexico border in response to large caravans of people headed toward the US from Central America.
The Biden administration intends to continue fighting the Remain in Mexico policy in court. But the Supreme Court in August rejected an appeal of the lower judge’s order for the program to be resurrected.
The possible restart of the Remain in Mexico policy comes as the number of Haitian asylum seekers surges at the border, and as a different federal court fight threatens to end the COVID-19 policy that allows the prompt deportation of adults — something Republicans warn could open the floodgates to even more people rushing to the border.
US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled last month that the Biden administration can no longer cite COVID-19 to rapidly deport migrant family units. The White House defended that deportation rationale as a matter of public health, not immigration policy.