Why is the US sending asylum seekers back to Mexico?

A caravan heads north from the southern Mexico city of Tapachula. Thousands of migrants, many deported from the US, walked in protest against having been trapped in Tapachula for months
Mexico 2021 © Yesika Ocampo/MSF
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Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have treated thousands of people along the migration route through Central America and Mexico. The medical evidence points to high levels of violence and ill treatment suffered by migrants and asylum seekers in their home countries, along the migration route, and in the custody of US and Mexican authorities.

The Trump administration first implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP)—better known as the Remain in Mexico policy—in 2019. Our teams saw people who had fled extreme violence in Central America only to be turned away at the US border. Left to fend for themselves in some of the most dangerous areas of Mexico while awaiting their court dates, the MPP offered no protection at all.

When President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, he made good on his promise to roll back the Remain in Mexico policy. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas issued a memo officially terminating the policy in June. In response to a court challenge, Mayorkas issued a new memo to terminate the MPP in late October, stating that the policy imposed “substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.” Yet in December, the administration announced that it would begin the court-ordered reinstatement of the policy while continuing efforts to contest the ruling. The Biden administration could have complied with the court order while reducing the scope of this inhumane policy. Instead, the administration made it even more harmful by expanding it to apply to people from more countries—including those fleeing violence and natural disasters in Haiti.

The administration is also keeping in place Title 42—a Trump-era policy that uses the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to turn away asylum seekers.

In this video, artist Carrie Hawks paints a picture of life under threat from all sides, showing how people fleeing Central America are at risk of gang violence, detention, and deportation. Many of them also suffer from physical injuries and psychological trauma. MSF staff see firsthand how MPP and Title 42 effectively trap people in danger. It’s time for the Biden administration to do everything in its power to end these harmful policies and build a humane asylum system—now.