While the nation’s agencies serving refugees and immigrants are scrambling to welcome thousands of Afghan refugees, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to their advocacy on another front Aug. 24 by telling the Biden administration it must reinstate the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy at the Southern border.
That drew a sharp and quick retort from some of those agency and advocacy leaders, who believe the Trump-era policy is cruel and unconstitutional.
“Mexican cartels are cheering tonight. With MPP in place, they can easily continue kidnapping and abusing vulnerable migrants for profit and pleasure while the richest country on earth turns a blind eye. This is a historically bad Supreme Court order,” tweeted Stephen Reeves, executive director of Fellowship Southwest and advocacy coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
A February 2021 study by Human Rights First documented more than 1,500 cases of asylum seekers and migrants murdered, raped, tortured, violently assaulted or kidnapped due to forcible return to Mexico under the Trump policy. That number included nearly 350 cases of children kidnapped or nearly kidnapped.
Working hard on at least two fronts
It likely has been decades since refugee and immigration agencies — most of which are faith-based — have been stretched on multiple fronts the way they are today. Last week, the urgent humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan suddenly took center stage over the urgent humanitarian crisis at the southern U.S. border with Mexico, which already overshadowed urgent humanitarian crises in other hotspots in Africa and Asia.
It likely has been decades since refugee and immigration agencies — most of which are faith-based — have been stretched on multiple fronts the way they are today.
Both the most prominent aid fronts have required massive and rapid ramp-ups, beginning with the changes in policy at the southern border as the Biden administration seeks to unwind the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies. Underneath it all, the pipeline for U.S. immigration and refugee resettlement — from foreign field offices to American church sponsors — dried out during the four years of the Trump administration and are having to be rebuilt.
‘Remain in Mexico’
“Remain in Mexico,” which is formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP for short, is among the most controversial of those Trump-era policies intended not only to deter immigrants but to punish them as a further deterrent.
MPP requires certain migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border to return to Mexico and wait near the border for the duration of their immigration proceedings — which in the Trump era took months and years to happen, if they happened at all.
The Biden administration suspended the program shortly after taking office, but the Trump-loyal attorneys general of Texas and Missouri sued to reinstate it. These same attorneys general currently are suing school districts in their states that attempt to enact mask mandates to battle the spread of COVID-19.
A Trump-appointed federal judge sided with Texas and Arizona, which prompted the Biden administration to appeal to the high court to put a hold on that order while the formal appeal worked its way up to the Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk had ruled that the Biden administration did not provide an adequate reason for ending Trump’s policy, which should have gone through a lengthy federal review process.
The Supreme Court denied the expedited claim of the administration, saying the administration failed to show that it was likely to defeat the claim of Texas and Missouri that the termination of MPP was “arbitrary and capricious.”
What does the ruling mean?
On one hand, the court’s 6-3 ruling could be viewed as elevating proper process over ideology. The decision cited the court’s 2020 ruling that blocked Trump’s effort to end DACA, a program of former President Barack Obama to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants called “Dreamers.”
On the other hand, the ruling by the conservative majority court could be seen as turning a blind eye to a draconian policy that is popular only with the Republican base that got Trump elected.
Whatever the intent of the court, the effect of its order met with disdain from those who believe tens of thousands of immigrant lives are at stake.
“The Biden administration was correct to rescind the Trump return to Mexico policy, the whole point of which was to punish people for seeking asylum by trapping them in miserable and dangerous conditions,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project. “The government must take all steps available to fully end this illegal program, including by re-terminating it with a fuller explanation.”
“‘Remain in Mexico’ is an assault on human rights and U.S. asylum law,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of CLINIC, a Catholic immigrant-advocacy group. “And both are already under attack due to the Biden administration’s decision to keep Title 42 in place. CLINIC and our affiliates, like so many across this country, stand ready to welcome. Our message to the Biden administration at this critical moment is clear: we will hold you to your promise to restore the soul of America. To do so, you must take immediate action to end Remain in Mexico.”
A few days earlier, after the district judge’s ruling, Gallagher had called MPP “a national shame” and said: “Jesus said, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Judge Kacsmaryk’s decision is contrary to man’s law and God’s law and must be overturned.”
RAICES, the largest immigration legal services nonprofit in Texas, tweeted soon after the Supreme Court ruling: “This has deadly consequences for asylum seekers. It perpetuates Trump’s inhumane legacy. The harms committed in the name of MPP are some of the worst we’ve seen.”
“MPP visited unspeakable harm on thousands of asylum seekers.”
The National Immigration Law Center tweeted: “Devasting news: #SCOTUS refused to stay lower court order to resume egregious Remain in Mexico/MPP policy. MPP visited unspeakable harm on thousands of asylum seekers. We remain committed to stopping this policy & urge the Biden administration to do the same.”
Doctors Without Borders tweeted: “Between Feb 2019 & Jan 2021, at least 70K asylum seekers were forced back to Mexico under MPP, many waiting in makeshift camps in dangerous cities along the Rio Grande. We’ve repeatedly called for this harmful policy to be completely phased out.”
Reeves, of Fellowship Southwest and CBF, issued a formal statement declaring: “Fellowship Southwest supports the Biden administration’s attempt to repeal MPP and condemns this ruling. We will continue to support our network of pastors, churches and ministries that embody biblical hospitality and welcome to vulnerable and desperate migrants. We also commit to advocate for just policies that recognize the God-given dignity of migrants, uphold our American tradition of providing refuge for the persecuted, and align with our biblical values of loving our neighbor and welcoming the stranger.”
Joanna Taylor, communications manager at the National Immigration Forum, wrote in that group’s daily email yesterday that the Supreme Court’s decision “will have dire humanitarian consequences. Migrants expelled under MPP faced extremely dangerous conditions, a lack of access to counsel or due process, and serious difficulty returning to the U.S. for their court dates. … Reinstating MPP will not lead to a more orderly asylum process or a safer border. Instead, if it is reinstated fully, we will see more suffering and confusion for vulnerable people seeking safety.”
As of publication time, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission — typically an ally from the evangelical side of supporting immigrants and refugees — had issued no statement on the court ruling.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that as of July, U.S. Border Patrol officials have found 383 migrants dead this fiscal year — the highest number in almost a decade. The migrants were attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico, often in remote stretches of the border.
Sheriff Oscar E. Carrillo in West Texas’ Culberson County said his staff has found the bodies of 19 migrants this year, the Times reported. “I used to request regular stuff like bulletproof vests. Now I’m asking for more body bags.”
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