The Biden administration is restarting a Trump-era border program that requires migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum requests are reviewed despite the “inhumane” conditions it believes the policy fueled, a top U. S. official told CBS News.
Due to a federal court order that the Supreme Court refused to suspend, the Biden administration is required to reinstate the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which 70,000 non-Mexican asylum-seekers were instructed to wait outside the U. S., often in squalid tent camps and crime-ridden border towns.
During an interview this week with “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he opposed the Remain in Mexico policy, citing “very poignant and powerful pictures” of migrants’ living conditions.
“The Matamoros camp where we saw individuals living in squalor who don’t have the ability to work, where the conditions are inhumane,” Mayorkas said. “We just saw the camp in Reynosa similarly situated. It is not in the best interests of individuals who are seeking humanitarian relief under United States law.”
Despite these comments — which echo President Biden’s own statements about Remain in Mexico — Mayorkas said he is “obliged” to revive the Trump administration policy due to the court order from August. “We’re planning to implement the program while we litigate the ruling,” he added.
DHS has yet to return asylum-seekers to Mexico under the rule, the department confirmed on Thursday. But the department’s policy office has been working on logistical plans to facilitate its “expeditious reimplementation,” including cost estimates, according to an internal memo obtained by CBS News.
Remain in Mexico’s implementation will also need to be greenlighted, even if informally, by the Mexican government, which has publicly called the policy a “unilateral” U. S. action. Representatives for the Mexican government did not respond to questions about the status of talks with the U.S.
The administration suspended the policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), on Mr. Biden’s first day in office. In June, Mayorkas issued a memo terminating the program, calling it ineffective and costly.
The revival of Remain in Mexico, the centerpiece of the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict asylum at the southern border, would represent an extraordinary policy reversal for Mr. Biden, one that would anger advocates for migrants, Democratic lawmakers and U. S. government asylum officers.