Mexico May Not Reinstate 'Remain in Mexico' Policy, Giving Biden Loophole to End Program

Mexico may not reinstate the "remain in Mexico" policy that sends asylum seekers back across the border while they wait for hearings on asylum claims, which could give U.S. President Joe Biden a loophole to end the program.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department refused to say Wednesday if the government will allow the U.S. to reinstate the policy after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block a lower court ruling ordering the Biden administration to reinstate it on Tuesday.

However, the court ruling is not binding on Mexico, according to Roberto Velasco, Mexico's director for North American affairs. He said that Mexico's "immigration policy is designed and executed in a sovereign manner."

"The Mexican government will start technical discussions with the U.S. government to evaluate how to handle safe, orderly and regulated immigration on the border," Velasco said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mexico Asylum Seekers
Mexico may not reinstate the "remain in Mexico" policy, giving U.S. President Joe Biden a loophole to end the program. A couple from Guatemala, who claimed to have been kidnapped by Mexican Police and then delivered to a gangster group, sits outside the entrance at the San Ysidro crossing port on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Baja California state, on Aug. 20, 2021. Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images

Mexico is not legally obligated to receive returning migrants who are not Mexican citizens, and most of the asylum seekers are not.

But President Andrés Manuel López Obrado has had good relations with the U.S. government on immigration matters and has willingly cooperated in blocking migrant caravans and deporting migrants trying to reach the U.S. border. López Obrador allowed the U.S. to implement the first version of the remain in Mexico policy under President Donald Trump.

It's not clear how many people will be affected by the Supreme Court ruling and how quickly. Under the lower court ruling, the administration must make a "good faith effort" to restart the program.

There also is nothing preventing the Biden administration from trying again to end the program, formally called Migrant Protection Protocols.

During Trump's presidency, the policy required tens of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to turn back to Mexico. It was meant to discourage asylum seekers, but critics said it denied people the legal right to seek protection in the U.S. and forced them to wait in dangerous Mexican border cities.

During the Trump administration, the Mexican government said it was cooperating with the program for humanitarian reasons.

Although migrants were granted humanitarian visas to stay in Mexico until they had their U.S. hearings, they often had to wait in dangerous areas controlled by cartels, leaving them vulnerable to being kidnapped, assaulted, raped or even killed. Others were transported by bus to parts of southern Mexico or "invited" to return to their home countries.

Mexico technically could block the program by refusing to accept migrants asked to stay in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols. But analysts like Tonatiuh Guillén, former head of Mexico's migration agency, consider that unlikely given the country's history of cooperation with the U.S.

Guillén said Mexican officials will probably go along even though the country doesn't have sufficient resources to deal with an influx of asylum seekers at the border and nonprofit shelters south of the border are overwhelmed.

Remain in Mexico Policy
The Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of the "Remain in Mexico" policy, saying that the Biden administration likely violated federal law by trying to end the Trump-era program that forces people to wait in Mexico while seeking asylum in the U.S. In this Aug. 30, 2019, file photo, migrants, most of who are asylum seekers that have been sent back to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols, to wait for their asylum cases, stand in line to get a meal in an encampment near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. Veronica G. Cardenas, File/AP Photo