- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday expanded President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy in an attempt to push back a surge in illegal immigration in southern Arizona.

Although the number of illegal crossings has declined along most of the border in recent months, Arizona has been a troubling exception, so officials said they are now operating the Migrant Protection Protocols, better known by the nickname “Remain in Mexico,” which requires some asylum seekers to remain south of the Rio Grande until their cases are vetted.

Under the move Thursday, the administration will send people back to Mexico through the Nogales border crossing, which is the key port of entry south of Tucson and Phoenix. It is the seventh border port to join the MPP, which began operating a year ago and was given most of the credit for solving the record surge of illegal immigrant families from Central America last spring.

“MPP has been an extremely effective tool as the United States, under the leadership of President Trump, continues to address the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis at the border,” said Chad Wolf, acting secretary at Homeland Security.

The program operates with the cooperation, though not the consent, of Mexico, which, under threat of crippling economic tariffs from Mr. Trump in June, announced it would do more to work with the U.S. to stop the tens of thousands of Central Americans crossing its territory each day.

Under the MPP, people who cross Mexico to come to the U.S. to claim asylum — usually with bogus cases, according to statistics — are returned to Mexico to wait while their applications are processed. The goal, authorities said, is to deny them a foothold in the U.S.

Once Mexico promised better cooperation in June, the border surge began to ease.

The Border Patrol, which recorded more than 4,000 apprehensions a day in May and early June, now averages only a little more than 1,000 per day.

Border holding cells that were massively overcrowded with nearly 20,000 people in custody in early June are now down to about 4,000 total.

Meanwhile, some 56,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the MPP over the past year.

“Ever since the U.S. government started the Migrant Protection Protocols, or the ‘Wait in Mexico‘ program, those numbers have decreased dramatically because people don’t want to wait in another country,” Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, told The Washington Times on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program last week.

“Once we ended that magnet, the numbers dropped exponentially,” he said.

But Arizona was a glaring hole.

The Border Patrol’s Tucson sector reported a 144% leap in illegal immigrant families nabbed so far this fiscal year compared with the last one, defying the 61% average drop across the entire border.

Mark A. Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters last month that the smugglers who control illegal immigration were aware that the MPP wasn’t in place in Arizona and began sending more traffic that way.

MPP’s success has come with criticism.

Immigrant rights advocates say the MPP sends migrants back to unsafe situations, leaving some legitimate asylum-seekers under threat.

Some advocates took to Twitter on Thursday to complain that migrants sent back across the border in Nogales may have to travel long distances to get to their hearings.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, described the policy as “forcing people — many of whom have spent every last penny just to get here — back to Nogales and telling them to wait months and travel 7.5 hours through Northern Mexico to Ciudad Juarez for court ‘hearings.’”

Border authorities say they are working with Mexico and international organizations to help the migrants who get pushed back across the border. Customs and Border Protection says reports of migrants put in danger usually involve people who, after being returned to Mexico, try to link up with smugglers yet again to make another illegal trip into the U.S.

Mr. Wolf said the MPP helps those with good cases get approved for asylum faster while weeding out bogus claims.

He warned that the program, which is based on a 1996 law, is under threat from federal judges.

An appeals court heard oral argument three months ago on the MPP, and two of the judges suggested they were uncomfortable with the level of protections for legitimate asylum seekers.

A ruling could come down any day.

“Disruption of MPP would negatively impact U.S. foreign relations, risk sparking a renewed humanitarian and security crisis at the border, and most benefit those who seek to profit from human misery,” Homeland Security warned in its statement announcing the expansion Thursday.

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