BROWNSVILLE, Texas – U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela branded the “Remain in Mexico” policy a disgrace following a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that restored asylum rights for tens of thousands of people.

The 2-1 decision in Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf reinstated an injunction blocking implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols — also known as the Remain in Mexico policy.

Chad Wolf is acting secretary for Homeland Security in the Trump administration. The is likely to appeal the ruling.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela

“The “Remain in Mexico” policy is a disgrace. Today’s decision by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejects the punitive sham that is the “Remain in Mexico” policy and moves us a step closer in restoring due process and a fair asylum system that upholds our international and moral obligations,” Vela, D-Brownsville, said.

“It is imperative that the Administration comply with this ruling in order to restore some humanity in our laws. I look forward to working with the Rio Grande Valley advocates and legal professionals to begin implementing this Court’s ruling.”

Nearly 60,000 people seeking asylum in the United States have been returned to Mexico to wait for their U.S. court hearings under MPP. Those subjected to MPP have been forced to wait—often for months—in one of the six Mexican cities where the program has operated. One of these is Matamoros, just across from Brownsville, which Congressman Vela represents.

Innovation Law Lab was set up by small team of lawyers in Portland, Oregon, which convened a group of activists, software coders and graphic designers to leverage technology and activist-organizing theories in order to “end isolation and exploitation of immigrants and refugees, build permanent pathways to immigrant inclusion, and advance justice.”

Since its founding, Innovation Law Lab’s work has advanced the cause of justice. Based in Portland, Oregon, Law Lab has team members in Georgia, California, Texas, Missouri, Washington, Florida, Illinois, and Mexico.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) said it was pleased with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia

“We celebrate the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling against the Remain in Mexico Program, ironically called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP),” said state Rep. Rafael Anchía, chairman of MALC.

“This dangerous policy has forced over 57,000 vulnerable children and families to wait in Mexico for months — under sometimes inhumane conditions and with no legal representation — before their asylum cases are even heard in court.”

Anchía added: “While today’s ruling represents a victory for our country’s values, we expect challenges in the courts to continue. Therefore, we remain vigilant and continue our advocacy for humane immigration policies, restitution of the right to asylum, and fair hearings for asylum seekers.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling upheld a preliminary injunction by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which found the Migrant Protection Protocols to be unlawful. For over a year, the United States government has sent vulnerable asylum seekers to dangerous border cities in Mexico to await hearings on their asylum claims.

In response to the Remain in Mexico policy, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) established the Estamos Unidos Asylum Project in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to advise asylum seekers about asylum and related humanitarian relief in the United States.

Estamos Unidos Attorney Tania Guerrero described conditions in Juarez and other border cities. “Remain in Mexico has been a humanitarian nightmare and we are relieved to see it end. We are thankful that asylum seekers who have been waiting in Juarez in fear for their lives will be allowed to pursue their claims in the United States.”

A CLINIC news release noted what the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said of MPP, namely that it “has had serious adverse consequences for the individual plaintiffs. Plaintiffs presented evidence in the District Court that they, as well as others returned to Mexico under the MPP, face targeted discrimination, physical violence, sexual assault, overwhelmed and corrupt law enforcement, lack of food and shelter, and practical obstacles to participation in court proceedings in the United States.”

Guerrero said Remain in Mexico “has been a dark stain on the United States’ role as a world leader on refugee protection. She added: “The 9th Circuit correctly decided that this program was never authorized by Congress and that it contradicts the immigration statute.”

Beth Werlin, executive director of the American Immigration Council (AIC), pointed out that since MPP’s implementation, only 262 people have been granted asylum while at lease 816 cases of murder, torture, rape, kidnapping, and other violent assaults have been reported against people placed in the program.

“Today’s decision is a step forward in restoring the rule of law at the border,” Werlin said. “The decision vindicates what we have been saying for over a year—Mexico is not a safe place for asylum seekers.”

Beth Werlin

Werlin said that when the “Remain in Mexico” program was first announced, AIC surveyed 500 asylum-seeking mothers about their experiences in Mexico.

“Our survey showed conclusively that forcing vulnerable families and children to wait in Mexico for months at a time put their lives at risk, while also making it nearly impossible for them to access the asylum process,” Werlin said. “Unfortunately, in the year that the program has operated, we’ve been proven right. Thousands of people have been kidnapped, assaulted, and suffered the horrible consequences of this unlawful program.”

Werlin said the Remain in Mexico program has “done grievous harm to our legal system.” She said the Trump administration has set up “secret” tent courts and made it almost impossible for asylum seekers to find lawyers.

“Out of nearly 62,000 people put through the program, just five percent have found lawyers,” Werlin said.

“Rather than turning away people fleeing harm, we should ensure that the United States lives up to its reputation as a haven for those who are seeking protection by providing people with a fair day in court.”

CHC letter

Meanwhile the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has written to the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf requesting an urgent meeting. The letter was signed by CHC Chairman Joaquin Castro of Texas, Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán of California, Congressman Adriano Espaillat of New York, and Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of Texas.

Here is the letter:

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf,

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) requests a meeting with you at your earliest convenience. On April 4th, 2019, the CHC confirmed a meeting with then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen M. Nielsen, then Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ronald D. Vitiello, and then-Commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Kevin K. McAleenan for May 23rd, 2019 on Capitol Hill.

However, the meeting on May 23rd did not occur due to the resignation of key Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. The CHC followed up with the agency to maintain our scheduled meeting with then-Acting Secretary of DHS, Kevin K. McAleenan, Acting Director of ICE, Matthew T. Albence, and the senior official performing the functions and duties of the Commissioner of CBP, John P. Sanders. Our request was never fulfilled despite various attempts to secure a meeting.

Last Congress, the CHC met with then-Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, who committed to meeting with the CHC every six weeks; either with him or other high-level DHS agency officials. During Mr. Kelly’s tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security, he met with the CHC on two different occasions: on April 4, 2017 and July 12, 2017. He continued his relationship with the CHC as the White House Chief of Staff by meeting with the Caucus on January 17, 2018.

The CHC also met with then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen M. Nielsen on July 25, 2018. Since meeting with Ms. Nielsen in 2018, the CHC has submitted multiple meeting requests, but DHS has not confirmed any meetings with our Caucus.

We sincerely hope that you continue the precedent set by previous DHS leadership of meeting with the CHC so we can together discuss the direction of the agency and how the course of DHS impacts our constituents.

The CHC has been on the record calling for the termination of various policies implemented by DHS. This ranges from family separation, which was enacted while you were Chief of Staff to Secretary Nielsen; Remain in Mexico, otherwise known as Migrant Protections Protocols (MPP); expansion of “safe third country” agreements; the use of border patrol agents to conduct credible-fear interviews; the creation of “tent courts” at the border, and; zealous building of the border wall.

Moreover, the CHC remains gravely concerned by the amount of migrant deaths occurring in DHS custody and the agency’s fiscal management. Under this Administration, 35 adults have died in ICE custody and in the last two years 7 children have died in DHS custody or shortly after DHS discharge. Furthermore, DHS has received record levels of resources from Congress, which has been followed by several funding transfers that has stunted the mission of other agencies and disadvantaged districts across the country. Moving forward, we hope to work with you in ensuring that the funding Congress appropriates is used to provide adequate care for migrants and advance an asylum system that provides relief to those who are lawfully entitled to it.

Under your leadership, DHS has fortified its strategy to block migration from reaching the southern U.S. border and effectively foreclose asylum. The Prompt Asylum Claim Review program and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process unjustly rushes asylum seekers through the credible fear process while impeding them from gaining meaningful counsel – ultimately returning them back to dangerous conditions. We are also increasingly troubled by the Asylum Compact Agreements DHS is executing with countries that are notoriously unsafe for vulnerable asylum seekers like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. There are serious concerns about these countries’ capacity to economically and socially integrate any substantial number of asylum seekers.  Furthermore, our position remains that these agreements fail to meet the criteria of requisite statutes governing a Safe Third Country designation.

The CHC is a 38-member Caucus that represents millions of individuals living along the border and communities across the country who are immediately impacted by the policies and strategy driven by DHS. We are eager to meet with you and personally relay our concerns while hoping to find a way to work together to preserve the asylum system, dedicate resources to reducing detention, institute policies that keep families together, and uphold the U.S. as a global leader on migration policy.

Please let us know the dates and times that work for you in the coming days to allow for our members to meet with you.

Thank you for your attention to this immediate matter.



Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows asylum seekers walking by an encampment near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. (AP Photo/Verónica G. Cárdenas)