Ms. Magazine: Women in the ‘Remain in Mexico’ Program Must Now Be Given a True Chance To Seek Refuge

This op-ed was originally published in Ms. Magazine.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the Biden administration has the authority to terminate the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as Remain in Mexico, which requires some refugees to wait outside of U.S. borders while their cases are heard. The administration must now take immediate action to end the program and allow those subject to it a chance to fairly and humanely continue their asylum cases in the United States.

Under the current iteration of the program, more than 5,000 asylum seekers have been forced to Mexico to wait for their U.S. court hearings. Most are Nicaraguan, but there are asylum seekers from Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and other countries who have been placed in MPP

Despite new safeguards under the Biden administration—such as a more generous exemption process that removes vulnerable people from the program, guarantees secure transport and shelter accommodations in Mexico, and quicker resolution of cases in immigration court—MPP continues to take a terrible human toll. The U.S. asylum process is never easy, but MPP has made it nearly impossible for those arbitrarily placed in MPP to access attorneys and win asylum. Of the 1,109 asylum seekers whose cases have been completed to date, only 27 have been granted protection. 

Over the past six months, we have traveled up and down the U.S.-Mexico border and spoken with organizations and authorities managing MPP. We met with people forced to wait in Mexican shelters and represent themselves in U.S. immigration court.

On a shelter visit in northern Mexico, we spoke with dozens of women who expressed multiple concerns about their safety and the conditions in Mexico, as well as the psychological and physical toll the program has taken on them. They told us that it is obvious that U.S. officials know about the dangers they face in Mexico, especially as women, but do not take their fear into consideration when sending them back. Many of the women told us they do not want to be a burden on the United States. They have relatives in the U.S. who could support them, and they just want to continue their cases in safety.

One Nicaraguan woman we spoke to at the shelter was tasked with interrogating political prisoners of the Ortega regime. When she was threatened for refusing to comply, she packed her things and fled. Now, while she waits in Mexico for her final court hearing, she is terrified that, if her U.S. asylum case is denied and she is returned to Nicaragua, she will be charged with “betraying the country” and face jail—or worse.

Several women we met in the shelter shared similar stories, while others said they left their homes due to gender-based violence. But without access to lawyers, internet, or computers, women told us they struggle to fill out their own asylum applications—complex legal documents are difficult to complete under the best conditions.

In early May, a group of women from the shelter in Mexico were bused to a special U.S. immigration court set up in a large tent at the port of entry in Laredo, Texas, for hearings on their cases. The judge appeared remotely, so was just a tiny picture on a video screen for the women to see. None of the women had attorneys. The judge warned one woman who had filed her asylum application that if she did not submit corroborating evidence translated into English, she could be denied asylum at her next hearing in three weeks. This is exactly what happened to two other women from the shelter.

In the words of another woman we met at the shelter: “The Migration Protection Protocols is supposedly about our protection, but we are not protected here. It is a violation of our rights. We want an opportunity to seek a better life.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, another woman said: “All of us are anxiously waiting to see what happens next. We’ve been through hell here and now I’m really hoping the United States government gets us out of here quickly and lets us continue our cases with our families in the U.S.”

The Biden administration must now immediately take all possible steps to end MPP, including not returning any additional individuals to Mexico under the policy. Those waiting in Mexico, like the women we met, must have an opportunity to pursue their claims from within the United States with the help of local organizations and legal service providers. And beyond MPP, the Biden administration must also do all that it can to end other anti-asylum policies that force people back to harm. We urge the president to fulfill his promise to ensure people are meaningfully able to navigate the asylum system rather than punished for seeking safety.

PHOTO CAPTION: Immigrant activists demonstrate in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 26, 2022 when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Biden v. Texas case. (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)