‘Remain in Mexico’ reinstated, sends asylum seekers across the southern border

This week, the United States began returning migrants to Mexico under the ‘Migrant Protection Program,’ which began under the Trump administration. The MPP forced migrants applying for asylum to wait in Mexico instead of the U.S. for their hearings. The Biden administration shut down the program but had to restart it after court orders. Washington Post Mexico Bureau Chief Kevin Sieff joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This week, the United States began returning migrants to Mexico under a program officially called the Migrant Protection Program which began under the Trump administration. The controversial program forced migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico instead of being released in the U.S. to wait for hearings. The Biden administration shut down the program but courts ordered it to restart.

    I spoke with the Washington Post's Mexico Bureau Chief Kevin Sieff about the change in policy.

    What does it mean that the administration has restarted the Remain in Mexico policy?

  • Kevin Sieff:

    It means that on the border right now, beginning this week, asylum seekers who arrive at the U.S. southern border are being sent back to Mexico, to northern Mexico, to await their asylum hearings. It looks a lot like what it looked like when it occurred under the Trump administration.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Does the policy play out the same regardless of where people are coming from? Meaning is it different for someone who's trying to come from Mexico versus central or South America or Haiti?

  • Kevin Sieff:

    Yes. U.S. officials have said so far that the policy applies to everyone from the Western hemisphere. So far, only limited numbers of people are being processed through MPP, and the Biden administration has said, along with the Mexican government, that this time there are more safeguards in place to protect the security of the asylum seekers to make sure that there's more shelter.

    The Mexican government has also insisted that asylum seekers get access to coronavirus vaccines while they await their court date. So there are some changes, you know, in the early days of the sort of part two of MPP. We don't exactly know how it will play out or even necessarily where, but this is what both of those governments have said about the sort of new version of the policy.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what about the time it's going to take for someone to get through this process? I mean, how long is Mexico expected to host these folks?

  • Kevin Sieff:

    The first iteration of MPP found migrants waiting for well over a year for their cases to be heard. The Biden administration has said that they would like to expedite these cases and move them faster through the system. But how will they do that with such an enormous backlog? It's unclear. I mean, you're talking about a large pool of people waiting in various forms to cross the border.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Kevin, there was also a horrible tragedy that you also covered. Tell us a little bit about that.

  • Kevin Sieff:

    There was a trailer full of more than a hundred migrants, mostly Guatemalan migrants traveling to the U.S. border and a little bit north of the Guatemalan border the trailer got into a traffic accident and at least 55 migrants so far have been killed in that accident. And, you know, it speaks to the desperation of people in Central America.

    It speaks to the enormous demand for labor in the United States. And the reason, of course, that these people were hidden in a trailer in the first place was because they were trying to deter authorities to turn Mexican authorities and who've been asked by U.S. authorities to do this sort of apprehension work. And so, yeah, the real dark side of the kind of migration policy that we've seen applied both in Mexico and the U.S. And I think the return of MPP certainly isn't a sign towards a kind of humanitarian progress on immigration policy. I mean, the first version, as we know, led to more than a thousand migrants being kidnaped along the border, many people being abused, some parents being forced to send their children alone across the border.

    You know, lots of really horrible stories. And so the return of it scares a lot of people, both migrants and people who care about the policy.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Kevin Sieff, for The Washington Post. Thanks so much.

  • Kevin Sieff:

    Sure.

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