The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Joe Biden’s attempt to unwind one of the Trump administration’s signature immigration policies, in a ruling that will have expansive implications for the president’s lurching pursuit of creating an orderly asylum system at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The nation’s highest court found that the Department of Homeland Security did have the authority to end enforcement of the Migrant Protection Protocols, better known by the Trump-given nickname “Remain in Mexico.”
“The Government’s rescission of MPP did not violate” the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the court’s majority ruled in a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the court’s liberal wing.
The policy, which allows border agents to release people seeking asylum into Mexico as they wait for their proceedings in the U.S. to be adjudicated, forced more than 71,000 asylum-seekers back onto Mexican soil during the Trump administration. Those who were turned back often faced extremely dangerous conditions, with many at high risk of exploitation, trafficking, and even murder.
“People on MPP we serve suffer from anxiety, stress, and a sense of hopelessness, and often, helplessness,” said Blanca Lomeli, director of the Mexican branch of HIAS, a nonprofit that provides humanitarian aid to refugees and asylum-seekers. “The reality is that the prolonged stay in Mexico is negatively impacting their mental health.”
Immigration groups have largely decried the policy as a blatant violation of international law and U.S. statutes, which obligate the country to take in those seeking asylum who are found to have a credible fear of violence or persecution in their country of origin.
In his first days in office, Biden instructed the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate the policy, which ceased enforcement in February 2021. Six months later, however, a Texas judge ordered that the policy be re-implemented, and attempts by the Biden administration to stay enforcement until a final judgment in federal court were denied.
With “Remain In Mexico” back in force, along with the similarly court-required enforcement of COVID-era protocols preventing asylum-seekers from entering the United States, conditions on the southern border have grown increasingly dire. Last week, one woman awaiting her asylum hearings attempted to take her own life.
The court’s ruling now effectively removes this additional hurdle for would-be asylees to enter the U.S. But for nearly all of those turned back under the policy, the decision comes too late: Just 641 people were granted asylum in the United States, an approval rate of 1.5 percent, since it has been in effect.