The program, known as “Remain in Mexico,” sees migrants returned to Mexico as their hearings proceed instead of being released into the U.S. It was set up in 2019 by the Trump administration as part of its efforts to end “catch-and-release.”
The Biden administration abolished it soon after entering office, but a federal court ruled it did so unlawfully, and ordered the administration to reestablish the program — which it did starting Dec. 6.
The administration has said it intends to abolish the program by a different route, but will comply with the court order in good faith. This angered immigration activists, who shared the administration’s view that the program is cruel and puts migrants in danger by making them camp in Mexico.
However, the new numbers from DHS show that there were 267 migrants enrolled in the program in December, with no migrants from Northern Triangle countries. Enrollees included 162 from Nicaragua, 59 from Venezuela and 32 from Cuba. Colombia and Ecuador both had seven nationals enrolled.
The limited use of the program may be partly explained by the use of the Title 42 public health order — which allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border. But this is not being applied to many migrant families, unaccompanied children and even some single adults. Only 19% of family units were expelled via Title 42 in December.
Additionally, the Biden administration has only this month expanded the program to the busiest sector along the border: the Rio Grande Valley sector.
A DHS spokesperson confirmed to Fox that enrollments in the program began on Jan. 19 in the sector, with migrants being returned to Mexico via the Brownsville port of entry. Migrants are also being returned from San Diego and El Paso.
The DHS spokesperson noted that DHS “has repeatedly sought to terminate MPP.”
“DHS currently is, however, under a court order to reimplement MPP in good faith. DHS continues to fight in the courts, including in a pending challenge before the Supreme Court. In the interim, DHS is committed to abiding by the court-mandated reimplementation of MPP in the most humane way possible,” the spokesperson said.
As part of the expansion, migrants returned via Brownsville will be allowed to reside in Monterrey while their hearings take place. The State Department is working with the Mexican government to secure transportation, shelter and testing for COVID-19, the spokesperson said.