DEL RIO, Texas — The "Remain in Mexico" program reimplemented by the Biden administration is entering its third week in El Paso. First put in place by President Donald Trump, the so-called Migrant Protection Protocol, or MPP, requires asylum seekers to wait for their American court dates in Mexico.
The policy under the Biden administration, forced by a court order, first rolled out in El Paso.
Advocates and Border Patrol Union representatives in other border communities have told KENS 5 that they’ve received essentially no information about this second edition of MPP, so they know very little about what’s coming, including how the new policy will shape their jobs and affect people wanting to get into the U.S.
“MPP is effective and it would absolutely make a difference for border security,” said Jon Anfinsen, president of the Border Patrol Union in the Del Rio Sector. “If the MPP can get reimplemented on a larger scale up and down the border, then we will be in a much better position to protect the border more efficiently. Frankly, it's the only way we'll have a shot at this point.”
But with that confident in the programs comes confusion.
“In the Del Rio sector, we have absolutely zero information," Anfinsen said.
"It's still at this point only being implemented in El Paso. And we're only seeing numbers of around 30 [people] or so per day. I don't know how DHS came up with that number. But that's pretty much what we're seeing, 30 or fewer. Over here in Del Rio, Laredo, RGV [Rio Grande Valley] sector, we're not seeing anything right now. And arguably, in Del Rio and RGV is where we need it the most.”
Anfinsen said the federal agencies running the program haven’t provided details as to how agents would have to decide who to send back to Mexico under MPP or expel using Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control rule put in place under President Trump which Border Patrol still uses to remove most migrants, citing the pandemic health emergency.
“When we have a new person standing in front of us and we have to figure out, 'OK, how are we going to process this individual,' there need to be instructions,” Anfinsen said. “Generally, there's a checklist of sorts that explains how that all works. At this point, we don't have anything, because MPP just is not up and running here. Now, we're told that it will eventually come here. We just don't know when or to what degree.”
DHS has said it was not sharing details about MPP locations and numbers of initial returns for security reasons.
“They're not telling us how people are going to be processed,” said Jennifer Scarborough, an immigration attorney in Harlingen. “We have these very two conflicting policies right now. So we have Title 42, which says that the U.S. government can either immediately expel you to Mexico or to your home country, but then we also have MPP. How do you advise people?
"They could try to enter the United States to request asylum hoping they're going to be placed into MPP. And then they could wind up back in their home country instead. This lack of transparency, these conflicting policies, the lack of information, it's really putting people's lives at risk.”
“I can't help people. I get calls daily, multiple calls a day,” Scarborough added. “For the vast majority of people, we're telling them that we can't assist, and that, you know, as border policies change that I will keep them notified.”
The dangers of cities where people placed in MPP have to live and wait have been widely publicized. Multiple reports produced by Human Rights First found that people placed in MPP under Trump and waiting for their U.S. court dates in migrant encampments on the other side of the border were subject to kidnappings, assault, extortion, rape and murder.
Biden discontinued MPP in the spring of 2021, emptying one of the encampments in Matamoros, Mexico, on the other side of Brownsville.
Since then, the Biden administration has lost multiple court appeals, after a judge ordered a restart of MPP.
“There's no way to be prepared for MPP, there is absolutely no way because it's broken,” Scarborough told KENS 5. “It's broken and it does not work. They can do their best and it won't be good enough.”
“Immigration is a huge issue, it's a complicated issue,” she added. “But I think we have to ask ourselves, 'How do we handle this issue? And creating these inhumane living conditions for people in hopes that they don't come?' That's not the answer.”
“We all sympathize with that,” Anfinsen said. “The problem is, you have to look at the alternative. Is it better for people to camp out under the Port of Entry in Del Rio when it's 110 degrees with no health care and no real amenities? And you're short on food and water? Is it better for people to be crammed inside the back of a U-Haul truck, driving up the highway? It's better for people to be crammed and stash houses, which are just as unsanitary? Look, we understand that this is not ideal. I don't know what the alternative is, unless there's a policy change at the White House level to make the process more efficient. If they want to make it easier and safer for people to come to the United States and claim asylum, then they have to make a different process than what we're doing now.”
In his first interview with KENS 5, since taking the job, the new Chief of the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector told KENS 5’s Vanessa Croix, MPP was being phased in slowly.
Chief Jason Owens said the program is being put in place on a small scale to make sure that everyone involved was able to handle the volume of people coming through. Whether it’s the government of Mexico, the country allowing migrants to stay, or non-profits charged with helping them.
According to the International Organization for Migration that’s been helping migrants placed in MPP in El Paso, as of December 20, the U.S. government sent 188 people across the border to Ciudad Juarez to wait for their American court date.
DHS has said non-Mexican nationals can be placed in MPP. Unaccompanied children are not subject to MPP and have not been subject to Title 42 expulsions.
According to DHS, vulnerable individuals, including people with physical and mental health challenges, the elderly and people at risk for discrimination because of their LGBTQI status are exempt on a case-by-case basis.
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