How would you feel if someone you trust harmed you as badly or worse than someone who beat you? On an international level, that’s what the U.S. immigration policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols — or MPP, or “Remain in Mexico” — is all about.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a district court decision ordering the Department of Homeland Security to reimplement MPP. Many faith-based and humanitarian organizations that work with migrants, including Fellowship Southwest, swiftly opposed the high court’s decision.
But why all the fuss about reimplementing MPP?
The humanitarian effects of MPP are more draconian than other migration-deterrence policies. They’re worse than the harms presented by Title 42, which authorizes rapid expulsion of migrants at the border, based upon supposed fear of disease. They’re also more drastic than the dangers of expedited removal, which authorizes deportation of migrants who cannot quickly and irrefutably demonstrate they justifiably fear persecution in their home countries.
“The humanitarian effects of MPP are more draconian than other migration-deterrence policies.”
MPP forces migrants seeking asylum in the United States to appear at multiple immigration court hearings that stretch across months, even years. Meanwhile, they must wait in northern Mexico, where they remain vulnerable to multiple threats to their future, their well-being and even their lives.
That’s why Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz believes MPP “puts migrants more at risk of danger to their lives than Title 42.” He knows firsthand; he directs El Buen Samaritano Migrante, a ministry that protects more than 200 refugees in four shelters in Nuevo Laredo and Saltillo, Mexico.
“Migrants need to go to (U.S.) court hearings several times, and each time, they have to face the (Mexican drug) cartels,” said Ortiz, who has transported migrants hundreds of times during the past five years.
Cartels control local routes and taxis, and informants track asylum seekers’ movements around the border towns, especially when migrants drive to court. Fellowship Southwest has reported how cartels inspected vehicles to detain migrants held in Mexico because of MPP.
The cartels systematically kidnap asylum seekers, holding them for ransom while asking families — either in their home countries or in the United States — to pay for their release.
Under such constraints, MPP forces migrants to continue to live in hiding, Ortiz said.
“It’s a type of torture. MPP kills and ends families.”
Meanwhile, MPP is expensive for migrants. Rather than move on to the United States and hold down jobs to support themselves while awaiting their cases, asylum seekers must pay to languish in Mexico, where jobs are hard to come by and resources are thin.
“The suffering of a migrant under MPP is not comparable to the suffering in Title 42, and they spend more money to survive,” Ortiz said. “It’s a type of torture. MPP kills and ends families.”
Under MPP, the Mexican government provides migrants with a permit to stay in Mexico called a Forma Migratoria Multiple. Asylum seekers must renew these permits regularly, and corrupt Mexican officials often force them to pay bribes to renew the permits. This practice is much more common with MPP, Ortiz reported.
In Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, Pastor Rosalío Sosa agrees with Ortiz. “MPP is worse than Title 42,” he said. “They are sending the migrants to the slaughterhouse.”
Sosa coordinates Red de Albergues para Migrantes, or the Migrant Shelter Network, comprised of 22 shelters in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. He believes the Mexican government’s consent to implement MPP leaves migrants defenseless.
“They are sending the migrants to the slaughterhouse.”
“It’s telling migrants: ‘Survive if you can,’” insisted Sosa, whose network houses 2,600 migrants and who has been helping migrants more than a decade.
Cartels routinely call on the migrants at their residences — to keep tabs on them, as well as to intimidate them. Because they fear cartel violence when they move about, 44% of migrants under MPP missed court hearings and were subject to deportation. At least 1,500 migrants returned to Mexico under MPP suffered documented violent attacks.
Near the Gulf of Mexico, Eleuterio González insists government-imposed mental and physical exhaustion makes MPP so inhuman.
“Under Title 42, a migrant is expelled, and he will typically be in Mexico for three or four months, but not years, like in MPP,” explained González, pastor of Iglesia Valle de Beraca in Matamoros, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas. The intent of MPP is to “despair them,” he said.
González and Valle de Beraca have relocated, fed and protected thousands of migrants living in tent camps, colonias, rooms and apartments scattered all around Matamoros. His church continues to serve thousands of migrant families, and new asylum seekers arrive each day. “Every day, we find new people expecting to seek asylum in the U.S.,” he said.
González, Sosa and Ortiz do not speak theoretically. They have sheltered migrants impacted by MPP, Title 42 and expedited removal. They speak from experience. They serve migrants daily. They live the migratory tragedy, and their voices are more important and closer to reality than politicians, immigration officials and even faith-based nonprofit leaders who observe immigration from the relative serenity of the United States.
Some advocates claim MPP provides migrants with legal alternatives not afforded by Title 42. But what good is a legal procedure if real life puts migrants and their families at risk? It’s like going to court with a target on you and your family’s back.
“Legal nuances are beside the point when migrants’ daily realities threaten their future.”
My constitutional law professor used to say, “The process is the substance.” If the process is not fair, the substance of the case is irrelevant. This is true for MPP. Legal nuances are beside the point when migrants’ daily realities threaten their future.
Ironically, the U.S. government provides more certainty of legal due process for rapists and serial killers than for families fleeing violence and seeking safety in the United States.
Why does government protect criminals as they pursue their cases? Because the system must ensure the integrity of the legal process and the administration of justice.
In contrast, MPP sets up migrants for failure. Policymakers with an anti-immigrant agenda designed MPP to prevent migrants from showing up in court. They created MPP to force migrants to abandon their aspirations to seek U.S. protection, violating their civil rights.
Aside from the discontinued practice of stripping them naked and delousing Mexicans with toxic chemicals, MPP is one of the United States’ cruelest border policies.
Any defense of MPP is either disingenuous or hateful. MPP eventually offers access to immigration courts, but is a long-delayed, barely likely day in court worth the immeasurable human cost?
Elket Rodríguez is the immigrants and refugees advocacy and missions specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest.