Immigration Officers Union Backs Court Challenge to Trump's 'Remain in Mexico' Program

A union representing 14,000 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service employees has filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" program.

Under the controversial program, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), more than 60,000 asylum-seekers have been forced to wait in Mexican cities, in some cases for more than a year, while their immigration cases are processed in the U.S.

However, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, some could be waiting much longer, with the pandemic effectively putting the U.S. asylum system on hold.

With many asylum-seekers forced to wait in cities known for high rates of violence and criminal activity, including kidnapping, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has accused the Trump administration of putting an already vulnerable group at further risk.

"Far from providing 'protection' for migrants and asylum-seekers, the policy has exposed already vulnerable people to an increased risk of violence and persecution," the ACLU said in a press release sent to Newsweek.

In an amicus brief supporting the ACLU's fight to end the policy, the National CIS Council 119, which represents thousands of U.S. immigration workers, agreed that the MPP was a betrayal of USCIS workers' commitment to upholding America's tradition of being a "refuge for the persecuted."

"In the last three years, the Executive Branch of our government has sought to dismantle our carefully crafted system of vetting asylum claims, and with it, America's position as a global leader in refugee protection," the National CIS Council 119 said in its amicus brief. "The MPP is part of that dismantling," it said.

"Council 119's members are steadfast in their commitment to serving our country by continuing its proud tradition as a refuge for the persecuted while ensuring the safety and security of American citizens," the union said. "The MPP betrays this tradition and would force Council 119's members to take actions contrary to their oath to uphold our nation's immigration laws."

The "Remain in Mexico" policy has seen families separated, with some family members managing to make it into the U.S., while others have been forced to remain waiting south of the border.

The ACLU of Massachusetts was able to reunite three families with a preliminary injunction in May. However, the Trump administration appealed the decision.

"The federal government has asked the First Circuit to overturn the district court's order and seeks to immediately return five asylum-seekers to dangerous cities along the U.S.-Mexico border," the ACLU said.

In addition to the union, several former government officials, including former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, filed an amicus brief in the case this week.

"Forcing Mexico to house an unsustainable number of migrants, while failing to share any of the burden, can only hurt both countries—not to mention the migrants caught in the middle," the former government officials said.

"Rather than solve the humanitarian crisis, forcing Mexico to shoulder the entire burden for asylum processing undermines efforts to cooperate to collectively solve the common migration issue," they asserted.

A third amicus brief was also signed by a coalition of more than 12 legal and community-based organizations focused on immigration, including the Boston College Legal Services LAB Immigration Clinic, the Boston University School of Law Immigrants' Rights and Human Trafficking Program, the Brazilian Women's Group, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and others.

"Rather than improve the nation's asylum system, the MPP's purpose is to sabotage it," the organizations said. "It thus aligns with the administration's broader mission to sharply curtail nearly all forms of immigration to the United States—especially by people of color."

Newsweek has contacted USCIS and the Trump administration for comment.

An immigration officer speaks with an immigrant before a naturalization ceremony held at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), office on May 17, 2013 in New York City. The union representing USCIS workers has filed an amicus brief in support of a challenge to the Trump administration's 'Remain in Mexico' policy. John Moore/Getty

Correction 8/5/20, 5 a.m. ET: The URL of this article was updated to remove a reference to ICE agents.