Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes yesterday's U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas's decision to lift the injunction that required the continued implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), also known as Remain in Mexico, which forced people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in often-dangerous environments in Mexico. We also applaud the Department of Homeland Security's stated commitment to stop enrolling new individuals into MPP and allowing individuals currently enrolled in MPP to pursue their asylum cases in the United States.
"At long last, the United States can end the inhumane Remain in Mexico policy, which condemned tens of thousands of people to grave dangers in Northern Mexico," said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at PHR and professor of public health and internal medicine at University of Michigan. "Following the court's decision, the Biden administration can -- and must -- act now to end all returns under MPP and support those currently stranded in Mexico to access their legal right to seek asylum. PHR and our partners have documented and sounded the alarm on the many harms inflicted by Remain in Mexico. It is far past time to end MPP and move towards a more humane, rights-respecting, and safe asylum system."
The Remain in Mexico policy has forced more than 70,000 people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexican border towns while their cases are pending, in violation of U.S. and international law, which prohibits returning asylum seekers to places where they risk persecution. Over the past three years, PHR and others have documented extensive evidence of the harms individuals and families have experienced under MPP, with migrants enduring unsanitary and unsafe living conditions, kidnapping, extortion, sexual and physical violence, and other human rights abuses.
Since the start of MPP in January 2019, PHR has responded to hundreds of requests by attorneys for pro bono forensic evaluations of asylum seekers enrolled in the program, most in support of asylum claims and a few in support of requests for MPP exemption due to health issues. Although most affidavits focused on the harms migrants fled in their home countries, most documented compounding harms to the migrants in U.S. immigration detention and after they were returned to Mexico under MPP. The affidavits also reported unsanitary and unsafe living conditions, limited access to health and human services, and family separations. Nearly all of those evaluated in a PHR investigation on MPP met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and many exhibited other debilitating psychological conditions or symptoms.
"After a year-long battle in the courts, the Biden Administration and Department of Homeland Security no longer face unjust legal or administrative mandates requiring the continued violation of the right to seek asylum," said Heisler. "We urge the administration to act as quickly and humanely as possible to allow migrants to enter the United States while their cases are adjudicated. PHR remains committed to working with our network of clinicians to provide medico-legal evaluations for asylum seekers and to partnering with immigrant rights organizations to advance the expeditious and safe care of migrants who have had their rights violated for several years by this policy."
"This victory was made possible by the persistence of asylum seekers and many grassroots organizations that worked tirelessly to oppose a policy that flouted international law and violated rights. MPP should be moved into the history books and no U.S. administration should ever revive such a draconian policy," said Heisler.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.