Yesterday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas updated the press on the Biden administration’s efforts to “replace the cruelty of the past administration,” especially the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program where asylum seekers were stuck in Mexico for months. Yet in practically the same breath, Mayorkas articulated an even worse policy: Wait in Mexico.
Of asylum seekers, he said, “They need to wait. But they need to wait with a particular goal in mind. We are not saying don’t come. We are saying don’t come now.” He clarified that if they don’t wait, DHS will use the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) “Title 42 authorities and return them to Mexico, and we have done that.” If Remain in Mexico was cruel, is “Wait in Mexico” better? Definitely not.
Under the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), immigrants who crossed were returned to Mexico to await a hearing date north of the border. At a final hearing after months or years living homeless in Tijuana, Juarez, or Matamoras, an immigration judge could at least theoretically grant them asylum and entry into the United States.
Under the Biden administration’s Wait in Mexico policy, immigrants and families dumped back into Mexico would not even receive a hearing date to await. They do not enter the asylum process at all. All they get from the Biden administration—beyond a push in the back on their way out the door—is the vague promise that at some undefined future time this administration will do… something to make things better.
Because DHS is hardly accepting in any of those returned under Remain in Mexico (despite celebrating ending it), the Wait in Mexico returnees are right now sitting with them in literally the same “squalor” that Biden denounced during his campaign. Biden insisted that he opposed making anyone wait for asylum in another country, and yet here is his DHS secretary announcing a worse version of the same idea.
Mayorkas says that DHS is “obligated” to expel asylum seekers under the Wait in Mexico program because a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declaration that found that anyone crossing without documents posed a threat to public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the CDC’s own health experts rejected the order, and the only reason the CDC signed the order is because the Trump White House forced the agency to do so.
“We were forced to do it,” one former official who worked on public health told CBS News. “We exhausted all of the options. We delayed. We slow‐rolled. We flat out said there’s not a public health justification. We said no. And then we were told, ‘Do it.’ So, at the end of the day, your options are to resign in protest or sign it. And if you resign in protest, the next person is just going to do it anyways.”
More than seven dozen public health experts at leading public health schools, medical schools, hospitals and other institutions wrote a letter in January to the Biden administration that denounced the purported health basis for the expulsions. “Imposing restrictions on asylum seekers and other migrants based on immigration status is discriminatory and has no scientific basis as a public health measure,” they wrote.
They noted that while the CDC order claims that all asylum seekers would need to be held in “congregate” settings where COVID-19 could spread, the fact is that DHS has the authority to process asylum seekers without detaining them. The health experts told DHS that the science supports alternative procedures, including testing, distancing, masking, and releasing people. DHS could also move more of its intake procedures outdoors.
Nonetheless, the Biden CDC last month said in a regulatory notice that the CDC expulsion order was based on the “most current information” regarding COVID-19. That wasn’t correct at the time, and it certainly isn’t correct now.
DHS Secretary Mayorkas is bragging about its end to Remain in Mexico—which hasn’t ended and will take months to end at the current pace that immigrants are being admitted—yet before that policy is even over, it is instituting a Wait in Mexico program that has all the threats and disadvantages of Remain in Mexico with none of the upsides.