Asylum advocates seek clarity on MPP ruling

Asylum advocates and local aid networks sought clarification from border officials Friday in Brownsville after learning of a court injunction against the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program.

Customs and Border Protection officials in the Valley referred inquiries from The Brownsville Herald to the agency’s national press office, which did not respond to requests for comment

Dr. Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, a member of Bay Area Border Relief — an aid group that has made multiple visits to the largest camp of asylum seekers in Matamoros — was in the camp Friday when the news broke about the court injunction.

By late afternoon, she and other volunteers were waiting on the U.S. side of the checkpoint at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, trying to get information from federal officers regarding whether asylum seekers in the migrant camp would be able to cross.

“We’re here to see what’s going on and if they’ll let people cross, because of the ruling,” she said. “They’re still saying that the Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) has not given any direct orders yet, and that they’re waiting on OCC to be able to share what’s going to happen. Once they get that information, it will come out in a public statement, and then they’ll be able to determine how they’re going to proceed,” she said of the group’s interaction with the port of entry.

Hernandez-Arriaga said they were told that the families who went to court in the Brownsville Immigration Hearing Facility tents Friday morning hadn’t yet been returned to Matamoros.

She described an anxious atmosphere in the camp.

The group spent the day in Matamoros convening with families, discussing conditions and potential next steps. “It’s clear that they know what happened,” she said. “There’s a lot of wondering what’s happening.”

Others expressed concern that the ruling could be stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court and warned those following the news to exercise caution.

In a statement, Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley wrote, “Within our mission to restore dignity and justice to refugees fleeing violence and political oppression, Angry Tias and Abuelas continue to call for abolition of all federal policies such as MPP, HARP, PACR and ACA that result in inhumane and unjust treatment of people seeking asylum in the United States. Angry Tias and Abuelas would caution against overly optimistic interpretation of today’s injunction until more information is available.”

An organizer specified that the group was discussing the issue with immigration attorneys to get a better idea of how the ruling might play out.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela said he sees the ruling as a victory for those who have fought against the program but suspects that the Trump administration will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

“The way I read it, this is a tremendous victory for those of us who oppose MPP,” Vela said.

The congressman cited past Trump administration policies that have been issued stays by the Supreme Court, stating, “It’s hard to tell what happens next.”

“We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will not issue a stay of the injunction, so that we can begin the orderly process of allowing these people to exercise their due process rights and make their asylum claims while living in this county, until they’re adjudicated,” Vela said.

He said in the event that the injunction is not stayed, the policy will likely impact the community as roughly 3,000 asylum seekers stuck in Matamoros cross into Brownsville.

Current statistics indicate that over 59,000 asylum seekers have been enrolled in the MPP “Remain in Mexico” program.

“The administration has put all of our border communities, in both the U.S. and Mexico, in a very precarious situation,” Vela said. “Longer-term, as time goes on and these populations of migrants living in those conditions multiply, it just makes it harder to deal with if ultimately the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is nullified.”

Brownsville shelter workers, however, appear to be ready to adapt to changes and assist in any scenario. Marianela Ramirez-Watson, the respite manager at Good Neighbor Settlement House, said that the end of MPP would be “fabulous.”

The shelter and others in the Valley were responsible for helping process hundreds of asylum seekers and families every day in the spring of last year when border communities were overwhelmed by the number of asylum seekers being released daily by CBP.

“We are ready,” she said. “We have everything here ready for those people to start coming again. We have supplies, clothing, food, mattresses, a vehicle to transport them. It would be a blessing.

“We have volunteers that are ready to come back. They’re just waiting to get a call. We have just been praying and telling everyone, ‘Please pray for an end to MPP.’ These people deserve a chance at a better life. If you read about these families, it’s all true. They’re fleeing for their lives.”

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf released the following statement:

“This nationwide injunction is grave and reckless, rewrites the laws passed by Congress, and undermines the U.S. Constitution. MPP has been a gamechanger in the U.S. government’s efforts to address the ongoing crisis at the southwest border. Using this Congressionally-approved authority, we have expeditiously processed meritorious claims in a matter of months versus years, while reducing false, fraudulent and invalid claims. By implementing MPP we have also effectively reduced the incentive for smugglers and traffickers to use children in their illicit cross-border activity. Should this ruling stand, the safety and security of our border communities, international relationships and regional stability is at risk. While we work with DOJ to expeditiously appeal this inexplicable decision, we are continuing to apply a range of other effective tools to maintain the end of catch and release at the border.”