In this file photo, immigrant families are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 7, 2021, in Yuma, Arizona. They had come through a nearby gap in the wall in previous days to seek political asylum in the United States. Border Patrol detention facilities in Yuma were overwhelmed in processing thousands of new arrivals. (John Moore/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials outlined to House members on Wednesday problems with a Trump-era immigration policy that federal courts are forcing the agency to follow.
One of the Department of Homeland Security officials, Blas Nuñez-Neto, said that the court-ordered Migrant Protection Protocols is a flawed policy program and the agency believes it should be terminated.
The protocols require migrants from Mexico who are seeking asylum to remain in Mexico while their paperwork is processed, but many advocates have documented harm, separation and deaths to those who must comply with the program.
“These flaws include that it imposed unjustifiable human costs on migrants, subverted the asylum system, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration,” he said in his opening statement.
Nuñez-Neto is the Acting Assistant Secretary for Border and Immigration Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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Republicans on the House Homeland Security subcommittee were dismayed to hear officials from DHS criticize the program, also referred to as “remain in Mexico” policy.
“Why would we expect DHS to implement this in good faith?” the panel’s top Republican, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, asked. “We expect compliance with the law.”
The program was implemented under the Trump administration in 2019. The Biden administration sought to terminate the program in June 2021, but the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas determined in Texas v. Biden that the termination memo was not issued in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act and ordered the Department of Homeland Security “enforce and implement MPP in good faith,” which the agency has done.
Nuñez-Neto and Emily Mendrala, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, both said the MPP policy was still in place and being carried out.
Mendrala said that one of the flaws of the program is many “MPP enrollees were preyed upon by criminal groups upon reentry to Mexico.”
Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican, asked Mendrala if she supported the program.
“That’s the law of the land,” Clyde said, adding that he thinks it’s a fair program.
She said the administration has been clear that it does not support the program, but will continue to implement it as required by the court.
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The Republican witness, Tim Roemer, the director of Arizona’s Department of Homeland Security, defended the program, and said it helps “keep the situation at the border under control.”
“Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s reversal of these policies chipped away at the progress made securing the border under the previous administration to make a political statement while putting public safety at risk,” he said.
The chair of the subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, & Operations, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, a California Democrat, said that the border is not open, like Republicans on the panel and Roemer were arguing, because of Title 42, which allows the government to prevent non-citizens from entering the country during a health crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This notion that the border is open is completely false,” she said. The United States should “get back to the process of what is legal in this country, and what is legal in this country is to allow migrants to come to a port of entry,” she added.
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