‘Operate with impunity’: Internal email warns of risks facing asylum-seekers under Remain in Mexico

‘Operate with impunity’: Internal email warns of risks facing asylum-seekers under Remain in Mexico

The GOP-led effort to resurrect the cruel Remain in Mexico policy continues to endanger the lives of asylum-seekers. BuzzFeed News reports that the State Department urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to pause sending vulnerable people enrolled in the inhumane policy to a Mexican city where “heavily armed members of criminal group” have been operating “with impunity.”

Under the policy, asylum-seekers are once again forced to wait in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court dates. This includes waiting in dangerous cities like Nuevo Laredo, in the state of Tamaulipas. But while asylum-seekers are escorted back to the U.S. by Mexican National Guard, this has also attracted the attention of dangerous actors, the State Department warned.

RELATED STORY: Dozens of groups file brief opposing Remain in Mexico policy as Supreme Court arguments approach

“’[In] the event that the criminal networks want to retaliate against [the government of Mexico] … migrants could be caught in the middle,’ Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath, a lead official in the US embassy in Mexico City, wrote in the email, which was intended for Blas Nuñez-Neto, the top DHS official running border policies for the Biden administration,” BuzzFeed News reported.

“Heavily armed members of criminal groups often patrol areas of the state and operate with impunity, particularly along the border region from Reynosa to Nuevo Laredo,” the State Department said. “In these areas, local law enforcement has limited capacity to respond to incidents of crime.”

CBS News reports that 135 of the nearly 2,000 asylum-seekers currently subject to the policy, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), have been returned to Nuevo Laredo since Republicans went to conservative courts to force the Biden administration to reinstate the policy. This is up from roughly 1,500 several weeks ago. Nearly 650 have been returned to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, which has been at the center of an epidemic of femicide. 

The Biden administration’s announcement that it will stop using Stephen Miller’s debunked Title 42 policy by the end of next month is a win for U.S. asylum rights. But CBS News further reported that “a senior DHS official said the US will enroll more migrants in [MPP] once Title 42 is lifted.”

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments around the Remain in Mexico policy this month, after agreeing to hear the case on an expedited schedule. More than 60 immigrant and legal service groups have also filed a legal brief in support of the Biden administration’s effort to end the policy once and for all.

“Tens of thousands of people legally attempting to seek protection in the United States have been subjected to an inherently cruel policy that strands people seeking safety at our border in dangerous and often deadly situations,” said signatory Fwd.us. “The stories of asylum seekers are brought to light in this brief now before the Supreme Court.” Among them are Roberto and his son Mario, who were targeted by cartels just days after being sent back to Mexico.

While Mario got away, he has no idea what happened to his dad. Advocates have further warned that a ruling on Biden v. Texas could stretch far beyond asylum policy, because justices will be deciding whether an incumbent president even has the ability to legitimately end a predecessor’s very flawed policy. 

“In the interim, the Department is required to abide by the order to re-implement the program in good faith,” a DHS spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “As it does so, the Department is committed to implementing MPP in the most humane way possible.”

RELATED STORIES: Border state advocates say they’re ready to welcome asylum-seekers following Title 42 announcement

MPP’s return would make asylum officers ‘complicit in violation of U.S. federal law,’ union says

‘A year of horrors’: Human costs of Trump admin’s Remain in Mexico policy continue to climb

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