We are talking about human lives.
Because it is so easy to lose ourselves in the intricacies of immigration policy, we sometimes forget that.
In August 2019, I was sitting in the office of an immigration law firm, and I received a call from a desperate client.
It was a Cuban woman in her late 60s who fled her home country with heart disease, mental health issues and a swollen leg to escape persecution for speaking out against the government.
She was registered in the MPP, better known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forces asylum seekers to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico for their asylum hearings in the United States.
The Cuban woman was hyperventilating over the phone with me.
She lived in a small room in Matamoros, Mexico, that she rented with money her family in Florida sent her with a lot of sacrifice. She was crying because the night before, hooded cartel men stormed into her room to do their monthly “inventory” of people registered in MPP.
Between sobs, she told me she was agonizing. She did not want to eat, and she did not want to leave her apartment for fear of being kidnapped. The Mexican cartels tried to force her to pay bribes to renew her permits to stay in Mexico.
On the other end of the phone, I was worried. It is well known that cartels do inventories of migrants in MPP and control local routes and taxis. Informants track asylum seekers’ movements around the border towns, especially when migrants drive to court or to the supermarket.
I was afraid, too. Given her poor health, I feared she would have a heart attack or an anxiety attack.
I did everything I could to assist her, but nothing could change the trauma she was experiencing every day while she waited for her court date.
This story illustrates what every asylum seeker must endure in northern Mexico while they are enrolled in MPP.
The policy is so dire that in the two years it was implemented during the Trump administration, at least 1,500 migrants who were sent to Mexico suffered documented violent attacks, rape, kidnapping and death.
Yet, the Biden administration reinstated the policy and began implementing it in some U.S. border crossings on Monday, Dec. 6.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, faith groups, Baptist pastors on the border, immigration attorneys and even the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – the union that represents asylum officers who work with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – opposed the reinstatement of the MPP.
Do you know why? Because, as Michael Knowles, a president of the AFGE, said in an interview, “[His asylum officers] are the ones who have to hear an individual literally begging for their life.”
But the Biden administration didn’t oppose the reimplementation of MPP according to his campaign promise of a safe, orderly and humane approach to the border.
In fact, the Biden administration voluntarily expanded MPP to nationals of every country in the Western hemisphere, including Haitians who were previously exempt from MPP.
Which begs the question: Why would the president expand a policy that he deemed inhumane, ended soon after his inauguration and, again, issued a memorandum to terminate it in October 2021?
The Biden administration suggested that it will implement a safer MPP, guaranteeing the transportation of migrants from shelters to the ports of entry and the resolution of their cases in six months.
But Biden cannot protect these migrants from becoming prey to the Mexican cartels. The U.S. cannot guarantee the appearance of these migrants in court all the way from Mexico.
The only outcome MPP guarantees is an increase in criminal activities by cartels and an uptick in kidnapping and death for migrant families.
Unfortunately, I am not surprised there is no significant outcry in the United States.
“Remain in Mexico” sounds like a good idea from this side of the border wall. It keeps us from having to assist an influx of immigrants in limbo, but it ignores the human cost.
The comfort of living in a bubble is one I can’t afford, and one that Jesus renounced.
We are called to welcome and protect the vulnerable. We cannot stand quietly by and keep letting this unjust practice put migrant lives at risk.
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest’s Advocacy and Missions Specialist, he was recently appointed CBF’s field personnel to serve along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Elket Rodríguez es el especialista en defensa y misiones de inmigrantes y refugiados del Compañerismo Bautista Cooperativo y Fellowship Southwest. Además, es abogado de inmigración en Texas.