On August 24, the US Supreme Court denied the Biden administration’s request to temporarily suspend a federal judge’s ruling requiring reinstatement of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP)—a Trump-era policy that forces asylum seekers hoping to find protection in the US to instead remain in Mexico to await their hearings. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has repeatedly called for this harmful policy to be completely phased out. In January 2021, MSF welcomed the Biden administration’s decision to suspend enrollment of new cases into the MPP. We see the termination of this policy as a vital step toward easing the humanitarian crisis along the US-Mexico border. We are also urging the administration to rescind the Title 42 order, another policy used to expel thousands of asylum seekers from the US without due process.
Under the MPP, between February 2019 and January 2021, at least 70,000 asylum seekers were forced back to Mexico, many of them waiting in makeshift tent camps in dangerous cities along the Rio Grande. Jose Antonio Silva, MSF project coordinator for our programs along northern Mexico, gave the following statement:
MSF is deeply concerned about the US judiciary’s move to reinstate the "Remain in Mexico" policy. Our teams have witnessed firsthand the catastrophic impact this policy has had on the health and wellbeing of our patients who were forced to await their hearings in dangerous cities such as Matamoros, Reynosa, and Nuevo Laredo. Under the MPP, tens of thousands of children, men, and women were trapped in desperate conditions, exposed to violence, extortion, and kidnapping. MPP punished people for seeking safety and protection in the US.
We have seen that this policy did not stop people from fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries and seeking protection in the US. In addition, we have seen that people can remain trapped in Mexico for years before their asylum applications are processed. This generates serious humanitarian challenges that exceed the capacities of existing services.
In the absence of institutional structures and programs in Mexico to respond to this situation, asylum seekers blocked from entering the US find themselves in very difficult conditions in border cities, either in overcrowded civil society shelters or camping in public spaces exposed to threats from criminal groups. This is a very vulnerable population struggling to survive in a context of intense violence. Meanwhile, organized crime profits by targeting migrants and asylum seekers for kidnapping, extortion, and human trafficking.
Severe overcrowding and little or no access to basic services—such as medical care, drinking water, and sanitation services—contributes to the potential spread of COVID-19 among migrants and asylum seekers. These displaced people have not had adequate access to COVID-19 vaccines.
We at MSF are urging the Biden administration to do everything within its power to end MPP and stop this harmful policy from being implemented again.