Mexico formally opposes Remain in Mexico program
For the first time, the Mexican government is formally opposing the controversial Trump-era program known as Remain in Mexico.
The program forced asylum seekers to live in Mexico until their cases were adjudicated in U.S. immigration courts. It was one of two programs started by President Donald Trump that disrupted the U.S. asylum system.
President Joe Biden vowed to terminate it and tried to end the program in 2020, but lawsuits filed by the states of Missouri and Texas kept it alive. In December, a federal judge paused the termination of the program — leaving it in limbo.
“Regarding the possible implementation of this policy,” Mexico’s opposition statement read, “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the Government of Mexico, expresses its rejection of the U.S. government’s intention to return individuals processed under the program to Mexico.”
Both programs allow the U.S. to turn people away from the border instead of deporting them back to their country of origin. But they only work if Mexico agrees to accept those migrants.
Mexico reluctantly agreed to participate in Remain in Mexico after Trump threatened to impose a 5% tax on imports in 2019. Since then, Mexico has agreed to accept migrants from countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Venezuela and Cuba.
Mexico’s announcement Monday that it opposes Remain in Mexico is the first time the country has publicly pushed back. Tijuana officials blame both Remain in Mexico and Title 42 for the current humanitarian crisis at the border, and some have advocated against the policies before.
“That was the start of our current humanitarian situation,” said Enrique Lucero, director of the city’s Migrant Services Department.
Lucero describes Tijuana as a bottleneck for migrants — a place where emigrants from all over the world come to cross into the United States. But programs such as Remain in Mexico and Title 42 put a cap on that bottleneck.
Both programs essentially eliminated the only way to get out of the bottleneck, which stranded tens of thousands of migrants at the border, he said.
“That provoked the crisis that ended up with migrants sleeping on the streets,” he said.
Lucero said Mexico’s public opposition could mean the beginning of the end for Remain in Mexico, but it’s too early to tell.
“Let’s wait and see how the U.S. reacts,” he said. “I don’t know if this is the end or part of a negotiation tactic.”
He said the Biden administration could put even more pressure on Mexico to keep playing ball, or the administration could point to Mexico’s public opposition as a reason to finally terminate the program.
On the north side of the border, immigration activists described Mexico’s opposition as too little, too late.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee. “It should have been their stance from the very beginning.”
Rios pointed out that thousands of migrants forced back to Mexico under both programs ended up being kidnapped, robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed.
Activists are pressuring Mexico to take a similar stance on the Title 42 program.
“The same stance that they’re taking on the Remain in Mexico program should be the same stance that they take on Title 42,” Rios said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Marsha Espinosa, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, told Reuters that the Biden administration plans to terminate Remain in Mexico.
“Our ability to implement MPP pursuant to court order has always been contingent on the government of Mexico’s willingness to accept returns under MPP,” she said.