Trump-Era ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy Hurts Children, Groups Say
(Bloomberg) -- As a U.S. federal appeals court weighs whether the Biden administration may abandon a policy requiring asylum seekers at the southern border to wait in Mexico, immigrant rights advocates say the policy has an especially devastating impact on young migrants and those fleeing abuse.
Children waiting in Mexico under former President Donald Trump’s so-called Migrant Protection Protocols have suffered from gang violence, attempted kidnappings and unsanitary conditions, groups including Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights and Save the Children said in a filing.
“It is unreasonable to expect children to seek asylum, much less meet the evidentiary burdens needed to win asylum, while subjected to these conditions,” the groups said. The Biden administration “acted appropriately in discontinuing a program that inflicted such harms.”
The groups urged the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans to lift an injunction forcing President Joe Biden to follow the policy in a suit filed by the attorneys general of Texas and Missouri. Neither attorney general immediately returned calls seeking comment on the groups’ argument.
The case comes as hundreds of thousands of people from Central America and other nations have surged across the Mexico border into the U.S. in recent months and detentions of migrants have soared. Republicans say the crisis is evidence that Biden’s policies don’t work.
On Tuesday, Florida entered the fray in a separate action. Its attorney general sued the U.S. over its immigration policies, slamming it for abandoning MPP and allegedly thrusting millions of dollars in costs on states forced to deal with a flood of undocumented immigrants that are being apprehended and released.
“Biden’s lax border policy is an open invitation to dangerous criminals, human traffickers and drug traffickers to enter the United States -- creating a crisis at the Southern Border like we have never seen,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement. “Because Biden is not requiring those crossing the border to go through the legally mandated channels, they are coming into our country without being properly processed.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has accused Biden of ignoring the court order to reinstate MPP. He said last week that requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico “greatly reduces the burden shouldered by state and federal agencies tasked with defending our border.”
But the advocacy groups argue that MPP violates international norms for the treatment of children and vulnerable family members. The policy makes it harder for asylum seekers to attend their hearings and puts those hearings in “tent courts” across the border in the U.S., the groups said. The courts lack privacy and safety for migrants needed to fully explain why they’re afraid to return to their countries of origin, according to the filing.
“The hearing procedures also failed to account for the unique needs and vulnerabilities that children, especially traumatized ones, face navigating complex legal proceedings,” the groups said.
The filing outlined examples of children who the groups say suffered under MPP, including a 5-year-old boy whose face was scarred during a kidnapping attempt while waiting in Mexico with his mother, and a 16-year-old girl who was afraid to tell the court about her sexually abusive father.
“Because of MPP, she was expected to volunteer her story in a tent court, where she had no privacy and no attorney to advise her,” the groups said. The girl, who declined to testify and was ultimately ordered removed from the U.S., should have been allowed to tell her “private, painful story in a child-appropriate setting,” the groups said.
Another asylum seeker, a teenage boy, fled Honduras after years of abuse and discrimination based on his sexual orientation, according to the filing.
“He attended multiple MPP hearings but was afraid to discuss his sexuality in open tent hearings and in front of his mother,” the groups said. After he and his mother were ordered removed, he started a separate case, but “immigration officials removed him to Honduras based solely on the order entered against him while he was in MPP.”
After coming to office in January, Biden sought to create a more humane immigration policy and froze deportations. But migrants surged in record numbers to the border, creating political concerns. Biden then pulled back from some of his promises and began to pressure Mexico and Central American nations to increase their own border patrols.
The case is Texas v. Biden, 21-10806, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).
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