Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes today’s United States Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Biden v. Texas, holding that the Biden Administration can end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Enacted by the Trump administration in January 2019, MPP is a disastrous policy that has placed tens of thousands of asylum seekers at grave risk of physical and psychological harm, including sexual violence, kidnapping, and death, and violates asylum seekers’ rights under both U.S. and international law.
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a welcome, partial step on a long journey to end inhumane and dangerous asylum policies,” said Michael Payne, deputy advocacy director of PHR. “While the Court has cleared the path for the Biden administration to rescind ‘Remain in Mexico,’ an array of cruel and ineffective asylum and immigration policies still stand, chief among them Title 42 border expulsions. We call on the administration and Congress to immediately end MPP, Title 42, and all policies that endanger asylum seekers.”
MPP bars migrants from physical and legal protection in the United States while pursuing their legal right to seek asylum. Since its implementation in 2019, more than 70,000 asylum seekers have been forced to wait in dangerous border towns in northern Mexico while their cases in U.S. courts are pending, where they are frequently subjected to extortion, kidnapping, sexual violence, squalid living conditions, torture, and other human rights abuses. MPP has fueled a humanitarian crisis, strained the capacity of Mexican shelters and social services, and created overcrowded and unsafe conditions for migrants. The COVID-19 pandemic made it even more difficult for migrants to find work or to obtain essential services, with one Tijuana, Mexico nonprofit professional telling PHR that conditions there were “a living hell” for migrants.
Since the start of MPP in 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.
“This week we saw the impact that ‘Remain in Mexico’ and other punitive border policies have wrought on migrants desperately fleeing their countries when 53 deceased migrants, including children, were found in a tractor-trailer in Texas – the most catastrophic human smuggling disaster in the United States in recent decades,” said Payne. “People fleeing severe violence and persecution have the legal right to seek asylum. By returning migrants to countries where they are enduring violence, kidnapping, and torture, the U.S. government violates its obligations under U.S. immigration law and international law. Migrants and asylum seekers will continue to suffer and die if punitive policies like the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy and Title 42 are not immediately ended.”
PHR documented severe human rights violations resulting from the Migrant Protection Protocols in a report published in January 2021. Doctors at PHR and the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine reviewed the forensic evaluations of 95 asylum seekers and exposed the impacts of being “returned to Mexico” under MPP: physical and sexual violence, kidnapping, theft, extortion, and harm to family members. The affidavits also reported unsanitary and unsafe living conditions, poor access to services, family separations, and poor treatment in immigration detention. Nearly every person evaluated by clinicians in the study was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and many exhibited other debilitating psychological conditions or symptoms.
“Physicians for Human Rights will continue to document and spotlight the health and human rights impacts of inhuman asylum and immigration policies. A safe, humane, effective asylum system is both an ethical and a public health imperative,” said Payne. “As the Biden administration brings an effective end to MPP, PHR underscores that mandatory detention is not the answer. PHR reiterates its longstanding call that the U.S. government should scale up effective, appropriate community-based case management services operated directly by experienced and trusted nonprofit service providers.”
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.