DHS: Migrant Protection Protocol program was key to curbing migrant surge

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Migrant flows from Central America down and more than half of the asylum seekers may have gone home already, new report says

In this July 16, 2019, file photo, migrants wait at an immigration center on the International Bridge 1, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. A Trump administration program forcing asylum seekers to wait out the process in Mexico has evolved into a sweeping rejection of all forms of migrants, with both countries quietly working to keep people out of the U.S. despite threats to their safety. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A new government report sheds light on the application of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program, which it credits with helping reduce the migrant flow from Central America. This, while activists say it has deprived asylum seekers of due process.

The Sept. 28 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says MPP has “demonstrated operational effectiveness,” as monthly migrant apprehensions have decreased 64 percent since peaking at 144,000 in May.

“Although MPP is one among many tools that DHS has employed in response to the border crisis, (the federal government) has observed a connection between MPP implementation and decreasing (arrests) at the border, including a rapid and substantial decline” in areas where the program is being implemented, the report states. MPP is in effect in San Diego-Tijuana, El Paso-Juarez, Laredo-Nuevo Laredo, Brownsville-Matamoros and — most recently — Eagle Pass-Piedras Negras.

MPP expansion was among the “key meaningful and unprecedented steps” undertaken by the United States and the government of Mexico “to help curb the flow of illegal immigration to the U.S. border” since a June 7 binational agreement, the report states, adding that it has become a pillar of both countries’ efforts to stem the migrant crisis that began last fall with the arrival of the first caravans from Central America.

The federal agency also says that 13,000 MPP cases have been resolved in U.S. immigration courts as of Oct. 21.

“A small subset of completed cases have resulted in grants of relief or protection, demonstrating that MPP returnees with meritorious claims can receive asylum … more quickly via MPP than under available alternatives,” the report states. It goes on to say that the asylum approval rate for citizens of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were approximately 21 percent in the recently concluded Fiscal Year 2019. That implies four out of five claims have been denied.

One of immigration advocates’ harshest criticism of the MPP program is that it exposed Central Americans and others to violence — including robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder — in the notoriously violent Mexican cities to which they are sent. The “Assessment of the Migrant Protection Protocols” report reveals that DHS has conducted 7,400 interviews to assess migrants’ fear of waiting out their claims in Mexico, but has only found 13 percent of those to have merit.

DHS says that fear or “torture and persecution” have specific legal meanings in American and international law, thus most claims received a negative determination. “This result is unsurprising, not least because (migrants) placed in MPP voluntarily entered Mexico en route to the United States,” the report states.

It also says that more than 55,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico in the past nine months to await the outcome of asylum petitions. However, a majority of MPP participants may have given up on their claims, for only 20,000 remain in Mexican shelters, according to DHS.

The agency also says the U.S. government has given the UN’s International Office of Migration (OIM) $5.5 million to provide shelter to 8,000 migrants in Mexico; another $11.9 million to move migrants out of Mexican shelters and into sustainable housing; and $5 million more so that OIM could buy 900 people a bus ticket home.

Immigrant advocates disagreed with what they view as a government justification for a program they say was meant to deprive migrants of due process and expose them to hardships that would make them give up on their claims.

“As a witness of how things have unfolded in the courts and someone who has worked with many migrants placed on this program on the other side of the border, I can tell you that this is not efficient nor does it represent our highest ideals of how justice should work,” said Dylan Corbett, director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute. “This erodes the principle of due process, it puts people’s lives in danger at the hands of organized criminals (in Mexico).”

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