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Lawyers In LA Prepare For ‘Remain In Mexico’ Asylum Seekers As They Wait For Biden To End Trump-Era Program

An image of children running near the US-Mexico border, a slatted fence in the background. Their faces are not visible.
Children play as people who are seeking asylum in the United States are gathered outside the El Chaparral border crossing on February 19, 2021 in Tijuana, Mexico.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images South America)
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Former President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program is still in place despite June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Biden administration may end it. As they wait for the legal process to sort itself out, groups in the Los Angeles area that provide immigrants with legal help are preparing to receive some of these asylum seekers.

Immigrant Advocates Prepare In LA For The End Of 'Remain In Mexico'

The “Remain in Mexico” program has forced asylum seekers from various countries to wait across the border as their cases are adjudicated in U.S. immigration court. There are anywhere from several hundred to thousands of people in that situation, according to UC Davis immigration law professor Kevin Johnson.

The administration has yet to wind down the program, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP. But if and when the asylum seekers under MPP are allowed to enter the U.S., legal service providers expect many will come to Southern California to wait as their cases are resolved.

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“We definitely expect to have people … seeking to transfer their cases to the L.A. area, because we also have a higher concentration of service providers,” said Yolanda Martin, managing attorney for removal defense with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “And so we are doing our best to get ready.”

Martin said her organization has beefed up staff and is trying to make room on attorneys’ calendars so they can take on MPP asylum seekers’ cases that are transferred to the L.A. area from border immigration courts. She said local families with relatives waiting in the program have reached out to her group.

“When it does happen, it’s going to be a lot of families, a lot of people that have been waiting,” she said.

But “when” remains a question.

In late June, the high court ruled against Texas and Missouri, which had alleged that the Biden administration acted illegally when it tried to end the program last year. In their 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court justices decided Biden had a legal right to end MPP and did not violate immigration law in doing so.

The justices sent the case back to the lower courts “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” Since then, the Biden administration has declined to end MPP, waiting for the lower courts to act.

In an emailed statement, the Department of Homeland Security said “we remain bound by the district court’s order to continue to implement MPP,” and that “DHS will continue reimplementing MPP in good faith, as is LEGALLY required until further action from the lower courts.”

This stance has infuriated immigrant advocates. Last month, more than 100 organizations sent a letter to the White House urging an end to the program. MPP has been criticized by immigrant advocates for exposing asylum seekers, many from Central America, South America, the Caribbean and elsewhere, to violent crime as they are forced to wait.

Johnson, the UC Davis professor, told LAist that if the Biden administration wanted to act more quickly to end MPP, it could.

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“DHS has said that they're waiting for the lower courts to act, but the truth of the matter is, the Department of Homeland Security could file a motion seeking permission to dismantle or continue to dismantle MPP,” Johnson said.

He added that political timing could be one factor.

“One possibility is an abundance of caution,” Johnson said. “Another possibility is the political concern, in the year of midterm elections, with looking to be soft on border enforcement and immigration enforcement, generally. I think the Biden administration is acting very cautiously.”

What questions do you have about immigration and emerging communities in LA?