McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The U.S. government has restarted the remain-in-Mexico program in South Texas and is sending some asylum seekers back to Mexico. However, most are choosing to go to the interior of the country, rather than wait on the border during their immigration proceedings, Border Report has learned.
The first asylum seekers have been sent back by the Department of Homeland Security under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, or MPP, which was restarted in South Texas on Wednesday, a DHS spokesperson told Border Report Monday.
It is unclear exactly how many have been returned, but migrant advocates say it hasn’t been a lot.
MPP was restarted at the end of 2021 in San Diego and El Paso, Texas, and there were fewer than 300 asylum seekers returned by New Year’s Day.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, said the few cases put in the program in South Texas, so far, have selected to go to a shelter in Monterrey, Mexico.
However several volunteer groups reached by Border Report said they know very little, if anything, about the facility in Monterrey, which is about 200 miles west, or about a four-hour bus ride away.
“All I know is it is a shelter the Mexican government identified,” Pimentel said Monday.
Pastor Abraham Barberi, who runs the Dulce Refugio shelter in Matamoros, Mexico — directly across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas — said he was asked a few weeks ago “by U.S. embassy officials” if his shelter would help to house asylum seekers placed in MPP. They agreed but so far he said they have not had any returned asylum seekers from MPP show up.
His shelter currently has over 200 migrants living in it, and is well over the 70-person capacity, he added.
“They’re going to give the asylum seekers the opportunity to stay in Matamoros or Monterrey,” said Barberi, whose facility is run out of his church, Comunidad Esencia Urbana.
“I think they want them to go to Monterrey,” he told Border Report via phone from his facility in the border town of Matamoros.
Matamoros is where upwards of 5,000 asylum seekers who were put in MPP under the Trump administration lived for as many as two years. The Matamoros government eventually moved the camp from the base of the international bridge to a nearby city park, but it was no secret that local officials did not want the large congregation of homeless asylum seekers in their city.
As the Biden administration was forced to restart MPP — after the U.S. Supreme Court last summer refused to block a lower court injunction — federal officials met with various volunteer groups and legal aid groups to try and find safer facilities and methods for returning asylum seekers back to Mexico.
DHS officials told Border Report asylum seekers “will be given the option” of their place of residence.
“MPP enrollees returned through the Brownsville port of entry will be given the option to reside in Monterrey between their court hearings. The Department of State and the Government of Mexico are facilitating secure transportation to Monterrey, shelter and COVID-19 testing,” the DHS spokesperson said.
The Department of State and the Government of Mexico are facilitating secure transportation to Monterrey, shelter, and COVID-19 testing.”DHS spokesperson
Barberi said he believes that the Mexican Organización Internacional para las Migraciones — most commonly known as OIM — is transporting the migrants to the interior from the border after being released by DHS officials.
From Dec. 6 until the end of the year, DHS enrolled 267 asylum seekers into MPP across the Southwest border. All were single adults, according to the DHS website.
The majority, 162, were from Nicaragua; 59 were from Venezuela; 32 from Cuba; and seven each from the countries of Colombia and Ecuador.
The Biden administration has fought the restart of MPP, which President Joe Biden halted as soon as he took office. However the program was ordered remanded after a lawsuit brought by the states of Texas and Missouri.
DHS has listed on its website several changes to the new MPP program, including ensuring those who express a fear of return be allowed access to legal counsel within 24 hours. Individuals also “may be disenrolled due to a finding of vulnerability at any point in the process.”
They also are trying to complete the cases much quicker this time as the nationwide backlog of immigration cases is almost 1.6 million right now, according to data by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks U.S. immigration cases.
DHS officials tell Border Report it will continue to fight to end the program.
“DHS has repeatedly sought to terminate MPP. DHS currently is, however, under a court order to reimplement MPP in good faith. DHS continues to fight in the courts, including in a pending challenge before the Supreme Court. In the interim, DHS is committed to abiding by the court-mandated reimplementation of MPP in the most humane way possible,” the DHS spokesperson said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.