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Current Status of the “Remain in Mexico” Program

pexels-printexstar-11623657-300x200Legal assistance can be crucial to the success of all types of immigration proceedings.  However, the Remain in Mexico program, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, is beginning to lose support and assistance.[i] Certain legal aid groups along the border between Mexico and the United States are no longer willing to provide legal representation to migrants trying to enter the United States. Without this legal representation, many migrants will not have the opportunity to present effective arguments in favor of their cases for asylum.

What is the Remain in Mexico program?

The United States government introduced the Migrant Protection Protocols policy via memorandum on January 25, 2019.[ii] The policy itself requires those who seek asylum and arrive by land at the border between the United States and Mexico, who also complete a credible fear screening with a United States asylum officer, to return to Mexico until their asylum hearing. This asylum hearing will take place in a U.S. Immigration Court. The policy was instituted for a multitude of reasons, including the enforcement of immigration and customs laws, the facilitation of legal trade and travel, to counter traffickers, smugglers, and those involved in transnational criminal organizations, and to prevent drugs and illegal contraband from entering the United States border. The program is meant to help reinstate a secure and systematic immigration process for migrants entering the country, as well as ensuring that migrants receive the protections they need. The program was shut down temporarily during the Biden Administration and was restarted on December 2, 2021.

What legal aid has previously been provided to the migrants?

Several legal aid groups were requested by the federal government and the Biden administration to provide legal representation to migrants in the Remain In Mexico program. Legal aid groups are comprised of licensed attorneys who provide free or discounted legal assistance and representation for poor and marginalized individuals who cannot afford the services of a lawyer. Regarding the Remain in Mexico program, legal aid is provided to assist migrants who are generally uneducated and speak little or no English.[iii]  More specifically, attorneys involved in providing legal aid to these migrants engage in a basic legal orientation and briefing on what to expect in U.S. Immigration Courts. A description of their legal rights is also provided along with possible ways to be considered eligible for an exception in the asylum policy and therefore to remain in the United States.

Legal aid groups have  provided free legal assistance to roughly 4,000 out of about 70,000 migrants involved in the program in the past. However, recently many legal aid groups located along the border between Mexico and the United States have rejected the current administration’s request.

Why are some legal aid groups no longer involved in the Remain in Mexico program?

Due to the incredibly high crime rate in northern Mexico, members of the legal aid groups that were previously providing legal assistance to migrants involved in the Remain in Mexico program claim it is too unsafe and too dangerous to send attorneys to that part of the world. There have been a grave number of kidnappings, instances of rape, and other violent crimes against migrants who are sent back to Mexico. These reported crimes could easily affect the attorneys and legal aid groups that are providing assistance as well.

The Immigration laws of the United States are complex and intricate. The assistance of an attorney is crucial to one’s success in applying for legal status. If you, or any family members or friends, are looking for assistance in obtaining legal status and residing in the State of Tennessee, call Cole Law Group at 615-490-6020 to schedule a consultation with one of our Brentwood, TN immigration attorneys.

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[i] Policy Guidance for Implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols, Dep’t of Homeland Security (Jan. 25, 2019), available at https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/19_0129_OPA_migrant-protection-protocols-policy-guidance.pdf.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Aid Groups to Stop Representing Migrants in Remain in Mexico Program, Wall Street Journal (Feb. 24, 2022) available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/aid-groups-to-stop-representing-migrants-in-remain-in-mexico-program-11645707634?mod=saved_content.

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