It’s called Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), and it was meant to deter migrants who knew they weren’t eligible for asylum from entering the U.S. and disappearing. Now the law of unintended consequences has revealed a new set of issues.
Under MPP, more than 40,000 migrants who asked for asylum have been sent to Mexico to wait for their case to be heard in court. But how do those people receive timely notices of court dates and times? Their address is often listed as just the city and state in Mexico where they were sent.
And when they appear in court, they must enter the U.S. through just two ports, San Diego and El Paso, and travel under Border Patrol escort. Snafus abound.
After waiting two months in Mexico to press her case for U.S. asylum, 20-year-old Katia from Nicaragua arrived at the border near Tijuana three hours before the critical hearing was scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m.
But border agents didn’t even escort her into the U.S. port of entry until after 9 a.m., she said, and then she was left stranded there with a group of more than a dozen other migrants who also missed their hearings.
The young lady as a lawyer, paid for by her aunt in the U.S., who convinced the judge to reschedule her case because of the transportation snafu. Later, staff at the lawyer’s office learned that at least two families in the group were ordered deported for not showing up to court.
In addition to transportation and scheduling issues, MPP is swamping the courts and court system.
Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former Department of Homeland Security official under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, said:
“It’s a volume problem, it’s a planning problem, it’s a systems problem and it’s an operational problem on the ground. They’re figuring everything out on the fly.”
When the MPP program was announced on December 20, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said one of its “anticipated benefits” would be cutting backlogs in immigration courts.
But the immediate impact has been to further strain the immigration courts.
A Reuters analysis of immigration court data through Aug. 1 found judges hearing MPP cases in El Paso and San Diego were scheduled for an average of 32 cases per day between January and July this year. One judge was booked for 174 cases in one day.
To reduce the backlog, DHS estimates the government would need to reassign more than 100 immigration judges from around the country to hear MPP cases via video conferencing systems, according to the attendees of the June meeting with congressional staff.
All told, the courts are now struggling with more than 930,000 pending cases of all types.
As of August 1, 39% of the backlog in the San Diego court and 44% of the backlog in the El Paso court was due to MPP case loads, Reuters analysis of immigration court data showed.
Congress intends to shift funds from disaster relief to expand facilities for MPP hearings, and also wants more funds for transportation. Without it, the backlog will expand.
ITent courts are set to open this month in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, and so far more than 4,600 cases have been scheduled there to be heard by 20 judges, according to court data.
In Laredo, 20 to 27 tent courtrooms will provide video conferencing equipment so judges not based at the border can hear cases remotely.