'Remain in Mexico': US Supreme Court backs Trump policy

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to support the Trump administration "Migrant Protection Protocols" policy that asylum-seekers must remain in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings. 

Gregory Bull/AP
Mexican authorities take migrants to a port of entry to apply for asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico, on Jan. 29, 2019. The Supreme Court on March 11, 2020, allowed the Trump administration to keep a policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings.

The Supreme Court has allowed the Trump administration to continue making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for their United States court hearings. It may be the most far-reaching measure in a series of policies the government has put in place over the last year amid an unprecedented surge of asylum-seekers arriving at the border, many from Central America.

The Trump administration has enacted at least five policies since the beginning of last year that officials contend are designed to address asylum claims that don't have merit and to confront a sharp increase in border arrests that reached a 13-year high in May.

Here is a look at the policies and what they do.

Return to Mexico to wait for hearings

A U.S. Supreme Court decision on Wednesday left in place the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy often called "Remain in Mexico." It was introduced in January 2019 and gradually expanded to all major crossing corridors. The high court reversed a decision last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that had declared the MPP policy unconstitutional.

Migrants arriving at the border are turned back to Mexico and must wait there for their court hearings in the U.S. Critics say it's a reckless and inhumane program that has subjected countless asylum seekers to kidnapping, extortion, and violence in Mexico border cities where gangs wield tremendous power.

About 60,000 immigrants have been sent back to Mexico under the program. Six in 10 of them are from Honduras and Guatemala.

Mexicans and unaccompanied children are exempt.

About 18% of people subject to the MPP are caught crossing the border illegally after their initial encounter, according to Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott.  

“Substantial numbers of up to 25,000 returned aliens who are awaiting proceedings in Mexico will rush immediately to enter the United States,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco warned in a brief to the Supreme Court. "A surge of that magnitude would impose extraordinary burdens on the United States and damage our diplomatic relations with the government of Mexico.”

Flights back to Central America for asylum 

The administration has flown more than 800 people to Guatemala since November, denying them a chance to claim asylum in the United States. Instead, they can apply for asylum in Guatemala, which is stricken with poverty and violence.

Very few people actually apply for asylum in Guatemala, and many simply return home. Some call it "deportation with a layover."

All people sent to Guatemala so far are from El Salvador and Honduras. They are subject to the policy because they passed through Guatemala on the way to the U.S.

The government plans to expand the "Asylum Cooperative Agreements" program and start sending people back to Honduras and El Salvador to request asylum there as well.

Lightning-fast asylum hearings

About 4,000 Mexicans and Central Americans have been deported after failing initial screenings for asylum that are administered with very little turnaround time. They get one day to prepare while in Customs and Border Protection custody, where lights are on around the clock. During that time, they get a maximum of 60 to 90 minutes to call attorneys and cannot leave call-back numbers.

Asylum-seekers who appeal failed screenings are connected by phone to an immigration judge who reaches a final decision within two days.

More than 2,500 people have been put in a version of the program for Central Americans called "Prompt Asylum Case Review" and nearly 1,200 have been put in a version for Mexicans called "Humanitarian Asylum Review Process, Mark Morgan, CBP's acting commissioner, said in late February.

Quick deportation 

The U.S. government can now more quickly deport immigrants back to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Under a new policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials can electronically verify citizenship of people who have final removal orders, avoiding the exercise of obtaining paper travel documents from a consulate, which officials say can take one to two weeks. They do not leave CBP custody, which typically lacks beds and showers.

About 17,000 people have been subject to the "Electronic Nationality Verification" policy, Mr. Morgan said in late February. Many are bused to a Border Patrol processing center in Tucson, Arizona, and flown home from there.

Kevin McAleenan, then-acting Homeland Security Secretary, said in September that it "gives us the ability to return migrants without any claim of fear to their countries of origin in an expedited manner."

Flights to Guadalajara for Mexican asylum-seekers

In January, the administration said it would begin deporting about 250 Mexicans a week on flights to Guadalajara from Tucson, Arizona, more than 1,000 miles apart. Authorities believe repeat attempts are less likely if they are returned deep in Mexico.

Mexicans from states that border the United States are ineligible. A similar effort to fly deportees to Mexico City ended in 2012 as the Obama administration struggled to fill planes.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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