By: Yanneli Llamas
Still reeling from the aftershocks of the Trump administration’s implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), those seeking asylum are met with yet another barrier in the wake of MPP’s reimplementation. MPP has not stemmed the flow of migration, but only places individuals fleeing danger in a position of greater vulnerability.
MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” is a program implemented by the Department of Homeland Security on January 25, 2019, under the direction of the Trump administration.  Under this program, non-Mexican asylum seekers must remain in Mexico while waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, an undertaking that can take years. Unable to return to their home countries and barred from entering the US, asylum seekers wait anxiously at the border between the US and Mexico, an area wrought with cartel violence, human trafficking, rape, and murder. Additionally, asylum seekers were subjected to inhumane policies such as family separation and greater bars to entry under MPP, all issues made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the health and safety issues it presented. Because governments cannot legally deport asylum seekers without first evaluating their claims, MPP serves as a cruel method of discouraging refugees from invoking their legal right.
On January 20, 2021, migrants and advocates finally breathed a sigh of relief when new MPP enrollments ceased, as President Biden had promised during his candidacy. Though there was much confusion during the transition out of the program, some asylum seekers who had previously been enrolled in the program were finally being processed, and on June 1, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a memo officially ending MPP; this relief was short-lived, however. On August 13, the Northern District of Texas’ District Court ordered that MPP once again be “enforce[d] and implement[ed] . . . in good faith.” Though this action was challenged, the Fifth Circuit denied the administration a stay on this order, and on August 24 the Supreme Court denied an emergency appeal. Though there will be more updates to come, at this point the MPP is neither terminated nor fully operational as it was before the Biden administration’s attempted termination. The administration has already taken concrete steps toward reimplementation of MPP, as of September 15 when they submitted their first report detailing compliance with the district court’s order.
Current State of Play
More than 250,000 asylum seekers were previously enrolled in MPP, and this summer some of them were finally seeing their claims processed. This progress halted on August 24, when the Supreme Court denied an emergency appeal seeking to prevent the reimplementation of the program. While the U.S. government never got past its inaction amid pleas for immigration reform, instead implementing a cruel program, asylum seekers continue to face inhumane conditions at the border. On September 29, DHS issued a statement announcing a plan to issue another memo terminating MPP once the current injunction on termination is lifted– however, it is unclear when and if the injunction will be lifted. Furthermore, this statement was released while DHS was taking active steps to reimplement MPP. Even if claims are processed, relief is uncertain; according to 2020 data, only about 7.5% of asylum seekers in the program had access to a lawyer.
There is no justifiable reason to continue to enforce MPP. Though the proposed purpose was to deter migration—though all people have the legal right to seek asylum—the program has not succeeded in deterring migration; it simply places already vulnerable people in a position to be further victimized.
As explained by the National Immigration Forum and illustrated in the chart above, MPP did nothing to deter migration. As illustrated by the chart, policies implemented to curb migration were followed by an increase in migration; the brief decrease is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, 2019 data shows that about 1 out of 4 asylum seekers waiting in Mexico are threatened with physical violence; the probability of being assaulted increases the longer individuals spend in Mexico. Seeing as MPP does not achieve its purported goal, ethical considerations demand that MPP be terminated.
 Author note: this is because those seeking asylum from Mexico cannot be kept in Mexico, the country where they are persecuted. Meanwhile, asylum seekers who have had to cross through other countries (including Mexico) before reaching the US border are questioned thoroughly on why they did not seek asylum in those countries; this is true for all asylum seekers, not just those enrolled in MPP. More information on those not subjected to MPP can be found at https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/migrant-protection-protocols.
 Report downloadable at https://www.msf.org/report-no-way-out-central-american-migration
 Chart created by the National Immigration Forum, found at: https://immigrationforum.org/article/explainer-the-migrant-protection-protocols/
Yanneli (she/her) graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with majors in Criminal Justice and English and a minor in Brookings Public Policy. She is currently a 2L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and her legal interests include immigration and criminal justice reform. Her personal interests include cooking and getting everyone on the dance floor.