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Supreme Court hands Biden a victory with 'Remain in Mexico' case

The Supreme Court ruled that the Biden Administration has the authority to end the controversial Remain in Mexico policy. President Joe Biden tried to end the Trump-era policy shortly after taking office, but a lower court blocked the termination. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis spoke with local experts about the impact of this decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Biden administration has the authority to end a controversial Trump-era immigration program known as "Remain in Mexico."

The program forced more than 71,000 people to live in Mexico while their asylum cases were adjudicated in U.S. immigration courts. Many vulnerable asylum seekers ended up being robbed, assaulted, kidnapped and raped while in Mexico

“It’s certainly a win today,” said Tess Hellgren, deputy legal director for Innovation Law Lab. “It does not undo the untold harm it did to 71,000 people. But it’s a legal victory and we should absolutely celebrate that.”

President Joe Biden promised to terminate Remain in Mexico during his 2020 presidential campaign. He followed through shortly after taking office. Several states, however, sued the administration, claiming it didn’t have the authority to halt the policy.

The court’s 5-4 decision states that immigration laws give the federal government the discretion to reverse the program.

Local activists have spent years speaking out against "Remain in Mexico" and documented acts of violence committed against asylum seekers who were enrolled in the program.

“I think the decision reaffirms what so many people have been saying,” said Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee. “That 'Remain in Mexico' was not only illegal but ensured that people faced terrible circumstances in Mexican towns while they waited for their court hearing.”

Even though activists celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision, they remained focused on a bigger goal to restore the U.S. asylum system.

"Remain in Mexico" was one of two Trump-era policies limiting asylum access. The other was Title 42, which allows border officials to turn away asylum seekers at the border without giving them the chance to see a judge.

Thursday’s decision does not affect Title 42.

The Biden administration tried to eliminate Title 42 in May but was forced to keep it by a federal judge after several states filed lawsuits in opposition.

“The asylum system is far from restored,” said Julia Neusner, an attorney with Human Rights First. “Title 42 is still in place, there is no access to asylum at the border at ports of entry because of Title 42. So, there are many people stranded in danger in Mexico.”

Human Rights First tracks incidents of violence committed against people who have been turned away from the United States via Title 42. The group reports that since the start of the Biden administration, there have been more than 10,300 incidents of kidnappings, assaults and other violent crimes.

Because Title 42 remains in place, thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers currently waiting in Mexico will still be unable to seek refuge in the United States.

“That is the critical question; what is the human impact?” Hellgren said. “You can have a legal victory but what is the human impact? As of today, as of this moment, I think they can look forward to hopefully having things change. But as of this moment, they are in the position they were in yesterday. Title 42 is still in place.”

The Supreme Court’s decision does not automatically end the Remain in Mexico program. It only gives the Biden administration the authority to do so.

Activists were quick to call on the administration to end the program as soon as possible.

“So, there are unanswered questions in terms of what the next steps are for how the Biden administration will respond to this decision,” Rios said. “My hope is that it will be an expeditious response so people will no longer face these difficult circumstances in Mexico.”

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