Migrants Forced to Wait in Mexico for Immigration Court Hearings Due to New US Government Policy

The government announced on January 24, 2019 a new policy that will force some migrants to wait in Mexico for their immigration court hearings.  Instead of being permitted to enter the United States and wait for their immigration court hearings, the new policy will allow immigration officials to return the migrants to Mexico, where they will be required to await their hearings.

The government states the new policy, known as “Migrant Protection Protocol” or “MPP”, “will help restore a safe and orderly immigration process, decrease the number of those taking advantage of the immigration system, and the ability of smugglers and traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations, and reduce threats to life, national security, and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need.”

The policy will apply to:

  • migrants arriving in the United States from Mexico on land and migrants arrested along the southern border;
  • who do not have a visa or other right to enter the United States; and
  • who are given an “Notice to Appear” and placed in removal proceedings with an Immigration Court; including
  • migrants seeking asylum or claim a fear of returning to their home countries.

The policy will not apply to:

  • unaccompanied migrant children;
  • migrants placed in “expedited removal proceedings” who are ordered removed by immigration officials at the border

Migrants subject to this policy will be allowed to temporarily enter the United States and attend their immigration court hearings, and depending on the decision of the immigration judge, some migrants will be allowed to stay in the United States and others will be removed to their home countries.

The new policy has been criticized on humanitarian grounds, with one organization noting the “shift in U.S. immigration policy . . . will place asylum seekers at grave risk of harm” and citing an incident in December of 2018 in which “two Honduran teenagers were brutally killed in Tijuana while staying at a migrant youth shelter.”  However, the government asserts the new policy will “reduce the number of aliens taking advantage of U.S. law and discourage false asylum claims,” “allow DHS to more effectively assist legitimate asylum-seekers and individuals fleeing persecution,” and “will reduce the extraordinary strain on our border security and immigration system, freeing up personnel and resources to better protect our sovereignty and the rule of law by restoring integrity to the American immigration system.”

The Washington Post reported that Mexican authorities do not support MPP, but “appeared reluctant to pick a new fight with the White House less than two months into the term of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.”  Various logistical and legal issues remain to be resolved.

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