The program, which requires non-Mexican migrants to stay in Mexico until the date of their appearance in U.S. immigration court, was suspended at the start of President Joe Biden’s term and formally terminated for months later.
Administration officials stressed on Thursday that they were only reimplementing the program, officially called “Migrant Protection Protocols”, due to the court order.
Immigration advocates were quick to condemn the announcement, and some Democratic lawmakers criticized the move.
Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement he was “deeply concerned” that the Biden administration “is overseeing an expansion of this inhumane policy and enforcing the court order before critical safeguards are put in place “.
“By adding new nationalities to this policy, enforcing Remain-in-Mexico across the border and limiting access to a lawyer to just 24 hours before individuals and entire families are returned to Mexico , the administration goes far beyond a good faith implementation of the court order, âsaid the New Jersey Democrat.
The administration plans to launch the program initially at a port of entry, but will quickly expand to “all key ports across the southwest border,” an official said, adding people would return. in the United States for hearings at four border ports. – San Diego, El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville.
The program will potentially be open to all nationalities in the Western Hemisphere, another official said, a change from the Trump-era program.
With the relaunch of “Stay in Mexico,” two controversial Trump-era border policies will be in place under Biden. The Trump-era public health order known as “Title 42” which allows for the swift deportation of migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border remains in effect.
The health ordinance will take precedence over migrant protection protocols, meaning the United States will continue to deport those eligible under the health ordinance. Those who are not deported under the health ordinance will be considered on a case-by-case basis to await their court hearings in Mexico.
The Biden administration continues to appeal the court order and plans to end the program if the court allows it. Amid the appeal effort, the administration held high-level talks with Mexico to restart the program, which requires significant cooperation with Mexico on the border.
Mexico “demanded a number of humanitarian improvements” as a condition of agreeing to accept people in Mexico under this program, one of the officials said.
The program was launched under the Trump administration in January 2019 with the goal of slowing illegal migration across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Officials said the Biden administration made several changes to the program, such as asking all potential enrollees if they feared returning to Mexico.
Under the Trump administration, migrants had to proactively voice their fear to border officials of being seen as an exception to the agenda.
The categories of vulnerable people who can be exempted from enrolling in the program will be broadened to include people with physical and mental health problems, the elderly and people at risk of discrimination, in particular because of their gender orientation or their gender identity, the official said.
The United States has also agreed to complete court hearings within 180 days “to the extent possible,” the official added.
Everyone enrolled in the program will receive Covid-19 vaccines before they return to Mexico – a milestone for Mexico, the official said.
Access to a lawyer has also been a topic of discussion between US and Mexican officials.
Everyone in the new program will have access to a lawyer before and during their talks about fear of returning to Mexico, as well as before hearings in the United States, the official added.
Another official said transportation from Mexico to the border will also be improved.
Transportation will be arranged from the court hearings and Mexico will provide safety escort to buses to and from the hearings.
Additionally, those participating in the program will be moved from the courts of Laredo and Brownsville to inland towns for their shelter while awaiting transport to a court hearing, the official said.
This story has been updated to include Mexico’s response and reaction to the announcement.
CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this story.