The facade of Supreme Court of the United States
On Thursday, June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States released their decision on Biden v. Texas, the case challenging the legality of President Biden’s decision to rescind President Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or "Remain in Mexico" program. Alongside Title 42, MPP is one of the primary policies effectively sealing the border to asylum-seekers.
On June 30, Columban advocates went to the Supreme Court in Washington, DC in anticipation of the release of the decision. While we ultimately welcomed the decision, it unfortunately does not mean that the struggle to end MPP is over. People of faith still need to advocate for their elected officials to end the policy and restore asylum.
What is MPP?
MPP was implemented by President Trump in January 2019. Because of this policy, thousands of asylum seekers have been forced to return to Mexico after they’ve petitioned the US government for safety and have remained there while they await a court hearing. Some migrants have been forced to wait for up to two years.
Before MPP, asylum seekers were often granted parole in the United States, giving them the ability to reconnect with their family and attend their hearings within the country. According to Human Rights First, “in fiscal year 2018, Department of Justice (DOJ) figures show that 89 percent of all asylum applicants attended their final court hearing to receive a decision on their application. When families and unaccompanied children have access to legal representation, the rate of compliance with immigration court obligations is nearly 98 percent.”
Under MPP, migrants instead live in limbo in Mexico, often becoming targets for the organized crime that exists in that country. It’s very common to hear from migrants that they’ve been victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, and extortion.
Take the case of Zahaira (not her real name) from Guatemala. She arrived at the US/Mexico border in March 2019, after fleeing her country with her three children because of domestic violence, poverty, and political instability. She has been living in Ciudad Juárez (across the border from El Paso, TX) since then, waiting on her MPP court hearing.
Since arriving in Juárez, she has struggled to find someone who is willing to offer her housing and employment because her teenage daughter was targeted by human trafficking groups. These same groups frequently harass other members of the family. Local residents are afraid that by welcoming migrants, they will also become targets for criminal activity.
Zahaira was only able to find support through the hospitality programs offered by the Missionary Society of St. Columban’s parish in Ciudad Juárez. Zahaira told us that she is “very grateful to the people who have helped us, such as the [Columban] parish for the support they have provided. I am very grateful to God for the people He put in my path, because He has not forsaken us.” But if Zahaira had been able to live in the United States while her court date was pending, she would not have been in that vulnerable situation in the first place.
What the Supreme Court decided
In February 2021, President Biden ended MPP and many of the migrants that had been waiting in Mexico were finally allowed to cross into the United States. However, in August 2021, a judge for the Northern District of Texas forced President Biden to reinstate the policy, arguing that the administration violated federal law. This conflict was at the heart of the Supreme Court’s decision in Biden v. Texas.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that by trying to rescind MPP, the Biden administration did not violate the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as was being argued by the plaintiff. However, the Court left open the question of whether or not the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946. They have instructed the same court that initially forced the reimplementation of MPP to answer this question.
Ian Millhiser, Senior Correspondent for Vox News, summarized the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision this way: “Even though the Supreme Court rejects [the lower court’s] egregious misreading of federal law, it leaves [them] with significant power to sabotage Biden — and to order Remain in Mexico reinstated one more time.”
For all intents and purposes, it appears that the fate of MPP will continue to be tied-up in the courts. We believe then that what this means for asylum-seekers in Mexico is that MPP will continue to be in place for the near future and that the Supreme Court's decision will not meaningfully change what's happening on the ground.
For a full history of MPP, we recommend this resource from the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
What's next for MPP?
On July 3, 2022, Politico reported that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said “that the current policy [MPP] will continue for the next few weeks.”
“We need to wait until the Supreme Court’s decision is actually communicated to the lower court, to the federal District Court and the Northern District of Texas,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “And, once that occurs, the District Court should lift its injunction that is preventing us from ending the program.” President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas concede the MPP is a cruel policy, and we urge them to continue litigating the matter in the courts.
However, the convoluted path that MPP has taken through the courts, and the continuing uncertainty over its future despite a Supreme Court decision, underlines how important it is for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes compassionate border policies. It’s important for people of faith to advocate in solidarity with their migrant sisters and brothers, and call on their elected officials to support an end to policies like MPP and Title 42. Several members of Congress have continued to advance anti-asylum policies and recently two appropriations bills were passed out of committee with harmful amendments that would keep Title 42 in place.
You can advocate to your elected officials here.
When MPP was first implemented, Columbans on the border of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez started a support network for our migrant brothers and sisters who arrived by the hundreds on the Mexican side, and who were being forced into dangerous and unlivable conditions. On September 5, 2019, we opened a "House of Welcome" as a response to the humanitarian crisis and the urgent need for spaces to receive and protect women with their children who were at risk of being left on the street. While some of the needs have changed since 2019, our mission to accompany migrants remains the same.
Columbans will continue to do this work as long as it is necessary. As people of faith, we see in every asylum seeker the face of Jesus, who was a refugee in Egypt, and who taught us that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome him (cf. Mt. 25:31-46).
We pray to our Lord of mercy to bless all migrants and refugees, and release them from their burdens. We pray that those in positions of influence and authority have their hearts opened up in order to recognize the human dignity of each migrant and make decisions that honor them. Indeed, may all of us be inspired to welcome without exception and to give from our own resources generously (cf. Mk. 10:17-31).