International Policy Digest

DHS/Office of Inspector General
U.S. News /02 Dec 2020
12.02.20

U.S. Immigration Policy Needs to Change: Remaining in Mexico is Not the Solution

The outgoing administration campaigned on building a wall, and build a wall it did, physically and metaphorically. U.S. immigration policy changes from administration to administration because it is a politically salient issue and one of the Trump administration’s goals has been to push the U.S. southern border as far south as possible. Not by literally conquering Mexico of course, but by pressuring the Mexican government to be as tough on migrants as possible.

Being tough on migrants in Mexico means militarized police keeping as many migrants from crossing Mexico’s southern border as possible. It also means keeping the migrants that do make it across from making it to the U.S.-Mexico border. To make sure the least amount of migrants make it into the U.S. as possible, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) exists. According to the Department of Homeland Security, MPP is a government action whereby people migrating into the U.S. via the U.S.-Mexico border can be returned to Mexico to wait for their immigration proceedings to take place. It’s most commonly known as “Remain in Mexico.”

This policy is controversial at best because it allows the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to return migrants across the border even if the migrant has no ties to Mexico. They are returned to cities that are known to be dangerous for migrants, with no actual protection protocols. Sometimes, they are returned hundreds of miles away from where their proceedings will take place with no way to get back. The fact is, migrants, especially women and children, are among the most vulnerable people coming to the U.S. They often undergo extreme trauma and stress to reach the United States so, to remove them after such a stressful journey north, only adds to their traumatic experience.

To make matters worse, the Remain in Mexico program is not consistently applied. The choice to send a migrant back to Mexico or allow them to stay and seek asylum is made by individual CBP officers. The policy has “guiding principles,” but officers apply them or don’t for that matter, without enough oversight and that leads to a variety of problems. This lack of standardization has led to family separations where some members are allowed to stay in the U.S. and others are removed to Mexico. In addition to separating families, it is also worth noting that migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border with serious medical issues are supposed to be exempt from MPP, but there have been consistent reports that they too have been sent back across the border. The mere fact that the MPP has led to family separations at the border is reason enough for a call to change, never mind the inconsistencies in application, lack of medical care, and lack of empathy this policy allows for in the first place.

The need for comprehensive immigration reform is past due, however, right now it’s easier to focus on rolling back one discriminatory Trump administration immigration policy at a time. The MPP has failed to do exactly what its name implies it should: protect migrants. The goal was never to curb migration, it has been to keep people out.

Migration to the United States is not a crazy unpredictable phenomenon that needs to be stopped at all costs like this administration might have you believe. It happens because there are visible push factors from the migrants’ countries of origin.

At the moment the main countries of origin are the Northern Triangle Countries (NTC): El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These nations are suffering from violence, poverty, corruption, and impunity. If the current administration truly wanted to curb migration to the U.S. it would have created substantial foreign aid packages for the NTC to help bring them out of the detrimental cycle of poverty and impunity they are in. Instead, the Trump administration has peddled fear and discrimination, and the MPP is one of many examples of that.

The Remain in Mexico program is how the Trump administration passed off its responsibility to migrants to the Mexican government. Remain in Mexico is not a viable immigration policy, and rolling it back needs to be a priority for the next administration. Instead of peddling fear, the next administration will need to address the push factors that are bringing migrants to the U.S. southern border and reform immigration policy, especially when it comes to processing migrants seeking asylum. In addition to this, DHS has allowed its agencies to run without enough training or oversight. The way CBP has been allowed to inconsistently apply the “guiding principles” of the Remain in Mexico program, is a clear sign that there is a need for accountability processes to be implemented within the agency.

The FY2020 CBP Budget was $18.2 billion, a 20% increase from FY2019. To be clear this is not a matter of budget, this is a matter of this administration refusing to take responsibility. The U.S. government is more than capable of allocating the funds and personnel to efficiently process migrants at the border but instead sends as many of them away as it can.

Immigration policy in the United States is more than just the Remain in Mexico program, but this is one policy the United States and Mexico can do without. This policy infringes on the human rights of migrants and puts further stress on Mexico by sending tens of thousands of migrants back over the border with no support, let alone protection. If the goal is to curb migration to the U.S., helping the origin countries address their social and economic problems is the way to do it. In the meantime, the U.S. is a nation built on immigration, pushing people out based on where they’re from is an unfortunate part of our past, it does not have to be a part of our future.