While the Supreme Court in a surprising ruling last month said that the Biden administration has authority to (again) end the previous administration’s inhumane Remain in Mexico policy, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a July 3 report that it is for now continuing.
Mayorkas “confirmed what most of us had been saying; Remain in Mexico will continue until the Supreme Court's decision takes full legal effect, something which will take a few weeks at best,” said American Immigration Council Policy Director Aaron Reichlin-Melnick. But as other advocates have also cautioned, the court’s decision still leaves the policy at the whim of the Trump appointee who initially issued the “bizarre” ruling forcing Remain in Mexico’s reimplementation last year.
All that the roughly 7,000 asylum-seekers who’ve been forced back to Mexico under the reimplementation can do is continue to wait. ”The slow pace leaves migrants who are still in Mexico vulnerable, said Taylor Levy, an immigration attorney who has represented asylum-seekers in the Remain in Mexico program,” NBC News reports.
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Among them is a 38-year-old Nicaraguan asylum-seeker who described being smuggled in a manner horrifying similar to the recent trucking tragedy that took the lives of 53 people, including a number of children. The man, who asked to not be identified by name, “said he and more than 100 other migrants were left to ‘suffocate’ in a large container and abandoned by the coyotes smuggling them,” NBC News said.
“We had no air,” the asylum-seeker said in the report. “Children were crying, women were fainting. Everyone began to scream. We thought they were going to let us out.” He said two people died, including a pregnant woman. While the asylum-seeker made it out of the container with his life, he said that violent conditions in Mexican border cities also pose a threat. “There’s so much more danger here," he said in the report.
The Biden administration itself has acknowledged these risks numerous times. In again attempting to terminate the policy last October, Mayorkas acknowledged violent attacks against asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico, which an initial memo from June failed to do. The State Department also warned in internal emails reported by BuzzFeed News that the “heavily armed members of criminal groups” who patrol these border towns pose a threat to vulnerable people.
“The stories from my clients, I mean, they’re being raped, they’re being kidnapped, they’re being robbed, they’re being threatened, extorted,” Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services attorney Marysol Castro told NBC News. Levy, who in the past has been targeted by U.S. immigration officials for her advocacy work, told NBC News that she hopes the administration does “everything in its power to implement this decision as quickly as possible.”
The policy under the previous administration forced 70,000 asylum-seekers—and more than 7,000 asylum-seekers under the current administration—to wait in dangerous Mexican border cities for their U.S. immigration court dates. But the policy also resulted in a form of family separation. Some parents who had been sent to Mexico were forced to make the heart-wrenching decision to send their children back across the border alone.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision last month, advocacy groups that have long been fighting for an end to the anti-asylum policy renewed their calls.
“People arriving at the U.S. border seeking refuge deserve access to safety and to be treated with dignity,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization was among groups that sued over the policy soon after its implementation in January 2019. “The Biden administration must keep its promise to end this catastrophic policy as soon as possible and provide relief for the tens of thousands of people who were subjected to it.”
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