McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — As the Biden administration recently began reopening some asylum cases that had been shuttered under the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, border nongovernmental organizations are working to help find families who might qualify, Border Report has learned.
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and the Sidewalk School for Asylum Seekers, are among non-governmental migrant advocacy organizations that are helping to spread the word on how families with terminated asylum cases through the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program might have a second chance.
The Department of Homeland Security last week announced that it “will expand the pool of MPP-enrolled individuals who are eligible for processing into the United States.” This so-called Phase II of MPP largely in part because although the Biden administration has transferred over 10,300 MPP cases — and has allowed the families to legally enter the United States as they await their immigration proceedings — there are thousands more families whose cases were terminated through MPP and who are still waiting for their cases to process that the federal government is having trouble relocating, advocates say.
Since MPP was started in early 2019, over 68,000 migrants were placed in the program and forced to wait in Mexico during their U.S. asylum proceedings. Thousands lived in makeshift tent encampments that sprung up in Mexican border cities just south of the Rio Grande along the Southwest border,
President Joe Biden halted the program when he took office in January, and DHS officials formally ended the program on June 1 after launching what they called Phase I to identify and process as many asylum-seekers from MPP and transfer them into the United States as qualified under the new guidelines, according to a June 1 memo by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Particularly, the Biden administration questioned the 44% of removal orders issued in absentia, meaning the asylum-seeker was absent from the court proceedings.
“Whether the process provided enrollees an adequate opportunity to appear for proceedings to present their claims for relief, and whether conditions faced by some MPP enrollees in Mexico, including the lack of stable access to housing, income, and safety, resulted in the abandonment of potentially meritorious protection claims,” the memo from Mayorkas to his acting directors of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agencies says.
Over 27,800 cases ended in absentia removal orders and 6,686 have ended with termination, Austin Kocher, a researcher with Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, a nonprofit that tracks all immigration cases, told Border Report.
Over 16,000 migrants are still waiting in Mexico for their cases to be transferred or resolved, according to TRAC data.
In May, the number of cases transferred from MPP and migrants allowed to enter the country dramatically slowed in May compared to previous months, TRAC reported.
Part of the reason is that it is simply hard to locate many of the migrants, migrant advocates say. And that is what has triggered Phase II to begin whereby the Biden administration is now going to reconsider previously closed MPP cases.
Many of the asylum-seekers have no income and no formal addresses and live in these shanty tent cities on the border, such as the 1,000 people currently living in the crime-ridden northern Mexican town of Reynosa in a downtown plaza. They often lack internet and have spotty cellphone coverage and no sure way to receive information on their cases. Some have returned to their homelands but live in different locations. Some moved to other countries or the interior of Mexico.
Therefore organizations that help migrants along the border are working hard to encourage families to go online and register through a DHS-approved link for the opportunity to have their cases reviewed.
Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, co-director of the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, has been passing out fliers to the migrants living in the tent encampment in Reynosa, to promote the website and encouraging them to fill it out, she told Border Report on Tuesday.
“I’ve shared with asylum seekers who told me they were under MPP, or still are, and I’ve told them this is where they need to register,” she said.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the RGV, who also assists migrants in Reynosa, says her nonprofit is working with other nonprofits in Mexico to help locate these families and to encourage them to go online and register and submit their cases for a review.
In late February, she helped the first MPP families to cross from the tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, into Brownsville, Texas. And she said she is hopeful that through Phase II, they will locate more families who will qualify to legally enter the United States during their asylum proceedings.
“I think that the word will get out that these are folks who are not getting a chance to look at their cases because maybe their cases were closed when they were waiting in Mexico; they were charged with absentia because they were sent back to their country, or they decided to go back, and now we have a chance to re-look at that case again and consider them to enter the United States and continue that process so that’s good,” Pimentel said. “It’s a very good thing that those who have a legitimate fear for their lives have the opportunity to follow up on that particular process they started, some two years ago.”