ResourcesPress Release

SCOTUS Decision to Reinstate “Remain in Mexico” Policy Jeopardizes Health and Safety of Asylum Seekers

Physicians for Human Rights calls on the Biden administration to recommit to taking all legal and legislative measures to ending xenophobic policy.

NEW YORK — On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to block a ruling from a lower court in Texas, effectively reinstating the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which was initially rescinded by the Biden administration in February 2021. Since its inception in 2019, the MPP has forced almost 70,000 people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in dangerous Mexican border towns ahead of their U.S. immigration court hearings.

Since the start of MPP, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and other organizations have documented the dangerous conditions and grave risks that asylum seekers face in Mexican border cities like Matamoros and Tijuana. PHR clinicians have responded to more than 100 legal requests to conduct medical and psychological evaluations of asylum seekers in support of their claims and a few in support of requests for MPP exemption due to health issues.

“The cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy has directly exposed migrants, including families with children, who came to the United States in dire need of protection to ongoing, pervasive violence and deplorable living conditions,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at PHR. “Instead of receiving the safety they so desperately seek while their asylum claims are reviewed, migrants have been routinely exposed to the severe trauma of being forced to return to unsafe conditions in Mexico while they await court proceedings in the United States to plead their asylum claim.” 

Together with  Human Rights First and other non-governmental organization partners, PHR filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2021 challenging the MPP on the basis of the policy’s violation of U.S. international and human rights law. The brief was filed in the case of Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab and includes the signatures of 108 organizations and law school clinics.

“By endangering lawful asylum seekers, this policy violates the United States’ long standing commitments under both domestic and international law that prohibit returning asylum seekers to a place where they could face life-threatening harm. This decision has the potential to compound violations already occurring through the Biden administration’s decision to continue with the Title 42 expulsion policy,” added Heisler. “We urge the Biden administration to pursue all means at its disposal to end this disastrous policy, and for the Supreme Court to side with upholding the United States’ legal commitments to non-refoulement and the right to seek asylum in safety.”

For more than 30 years, members of PHR’s Asylum Network, comprising 1,900 volunteer health professionals, have conducted pro bono forensic evaluations for asylum seekers involved in U.S. immigration proceedings. These evaluations can corroborate an asylum seeker’s claim of having suffered violence and persecution. 

Additional PHR resources on human rights related issues regarding the Migrant Protection Protocols: 

  • Report: “Profiles in Resilience: Why Survivors of Domestic Violence and Gang Violence Qualify for International Protection,” June 9, 2021.
  • Press Release: “Supreme Court Allowing “Remain in Mexico” Enforcement Is A Deadly Threat to Asylum Seekers: PHR,” March 11, 2020. 
  • Blog: ​​”A Deadly Prescription: the U.S. ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy,” January 7, 2020. 
  • Statement: “Testimony Submitted for the Record to the House Committee on Homeland Security Hearing on: ‘Examining the Human Rights and Legal Implications of DHS’ ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy,’” November 19, 2019.
  • Report: “’If I went back, I would not survive.’ Asylum Seekers Fleeing Violence in Mexico and Central America,” October 9, 2019.
  • Press Release: “As Nielsen Visits Border, ‘Migrant Protection Protocols’ Increase Vulnerability of Migrants,” January 29, 2019.

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.

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