The Supreme Court agreed Friday to consider this term whether the Biden administration can terminate a Trump-era border policy known as “Remain in Mexico,” a move that calls into question the future of a controversial program that allows officials to send non-Mexican migrants to Mexico to await their US immigration court hearings.
The court set the case for argument this April.
Lower courts have rejected attempts by the Biden administration to halt the program, forcing the administration to relaunch the policy.
Under the Trump administration, thousands of migrants were subject to the program, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, and resided in makeshift camps along Mexico’s northern border often in squalor and dangerous conditions.
President Joe Biden pledged to end the program and began the process of admitting to the United States those migrants who had previously been subject to it. But a federal judge in Texas disrupted those plans when he ordered the revival of the policy. The Biden administration began subjecting migrants to the “Remain in Mexico” program last December, kicking it off in El Paso, Texas, before expanding it elsewhere along the US southern border.
Administration officials had pledged to make important changes as part of the restart, such as improving access to lawyers. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time that the Biden administration was not eager to move ahead with the program, telling reporters that the Department of Homeland Security put in place changes to “improve humanitarian components,” but added the administration still feels the program is “inefficient, inhumane.”
DHS in October reissued a memo terminating the policy and again outlined the reasons for its termination. After additional review, DHS found that while the policy may have led to a reduction in border crossings, the humanitarian costs justify its termination.
“It delves much deeper into the decision-making and the reasoning behind the decision,” a Homeland Security official told reporters at the time, referring to the new memo. “It squarely addresses some of the alleged failures of the prior memo, as well – addressing the alleged costs to states and alleged concerns about the implications of terminating” the policy.
As of February 13, more than 570 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the policy, according to an spokesperson from the International Organization for Migration.
In filings to the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said that the lower courts had relied on “novel and erroneous interpretations” of federal law to compel DHS to maintain a program that the administration has “twice determined to be contrary to the interests of the United States.”
In court papers, lawyers for Texas and Missouri told the justices that the policy was put in place to combat a “surge of illegal aliens arriving at the southern border.” They said that most of the asylum claims were “meritless” and that they were being “released into the United States in large numbers. “
This story has been updated with additional details.