More than 70 legal service providers have condemned the Biden administration’s plan to restart the anti-asylum policy known as Remain in Mexico, writing in a letter to the president, vice president, and top officials that they “refuse to be complicit in a program that facilitates the rape, torture, death, and family separations of people seeking protection by committing to provide legal services.”
“No measure of involvement from civil societies will mitigate the harms of this horrific, racist, and unlawful program,” the letter states, noting the policy further endangers those seeking to advocate for vulnerable people. “Nor is it just for this administration to continue to force U.S. lawyers and humanitarian staff to risk their safety due to the failure of this administration to take swift action to uphold U.S. refugee laws and treaties.”
The Biden administration recently said it could restart the policy by next month, pursuant to a right-wing court order. The administration requires Mexico’s cooperation in order to restart the policy. But legal advocates note that the court also said that the Biden administration could again attempt to end the policy, using a more detailed memo. While the administration did say following a Supreme Court decision that it would again try to end the policy, nothing has been issued yet. Legal service advocates say there’s just no humane way to restart this policy—it was never meant to be humane—and that the memo must come now.
“The undersigned 73 legal services providers, law school clinics, and law firms write to decry the Biden administration’s decision to restart the Remain in Mexico program (formally termed the Migrant Protection Protocols or ‘MPP’) and make clear, there is no way to make this program safe, humane, or lawful,” they write. “No measure of involvement from civil societies will mitigate the harms of this horrific, racist, and unlawful program.”
Human Rights First tracked more than 1,500 incidents of violence against returned asylum-seekers while the policy was in effect, including kidnapping. But the policy also risks the safety of those who advocate for vulnerable people as well. “In fact, during the two years it was operated under the Trump administration, U.S.-based attorneys were threatened with kidnapping and violence in connection with their representation of people in MPP.”
In the letter to the administration, the over 70 groups call for “a new memorandum that provides a more detailed explanation for the decision to terminate MPP and that resolves any Administrative Procedure Act issues identified by the district court,” as well as for the administration to “inform the Government of Mexico that the United States cannot guarantee increased access to counsel under a reinstated MPP, nor can the United States guarantee that court hearings will generally conclude within 6 months.”
Increased access to legal help and a faster resolution to cases have reportedly been among demands made by Mexico. Without Mexico’s handshake, MPP can’t be restarted.
The more than 70 organizations join a number of border-based asylum organizations and advocates who last weekend left a virtual meeting with the Biden administration over the policy. They similarly noted that they refused “to be complicit in deterrence-based border policies,” saying “[i] is not possible to make the inhumane, humane, unfair, fair, or to breathe life into a deadly program.”
“We stand ready to offer legal services to asylum seekers, were your administration to follow U.S. and international law,” the groups concluded in the letter. “But there is no protection in the Migrant Protection Protocols.”
“Migrant Protection Protocols do not protect anyone, these protocols perpetrate torture, harm, and even death,” Tania Guerrero of CLINIC’s Estamos Unidos Asylum Project said during a press call Thursday. “It creates an industry of trafficking and extorsion that benefits from those in dire need. MPP kills from the inside out. Legal organizations are not the band-aid. We have gone above and beyond and have failed because the system is flawed and illegal. The U.S. Government has the choice to not reinstate MPP just like it has the choice to end Title 42. In its failure to terminate such practices, it sends a definitive message that others are simply not welcome. The Biden administration must stop this deadly course of action now. We, CLINIC, and I cannot and will not be complicit any longer.”
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