The “Remain in Mexico” Policy Creates Problems for Lawyers
Guest Blog Post by Malaika Tiglao, 2020 AsylumConnect Summer Intern
What is the “Remain in Mexico” Policy?
The Trump administration introduced the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, in December 2018 to deter waves of asylum seekers from countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. As of January 25, 2019, asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border have been forced to remain in Mexico for the duration of their proceedings. Prior to MPP, asylum seekers were allowed to remain in the United States as they awaited their immigration court appearances. Asylum seekers returned to Mexico risk substantial harm while they await the adjudication of their application. As of March 2020, about 60,000 migrants have returned to Mexico. More than 1,000 reported cases of violent crimes targeting migrants have been confirmed by Human Rights First.
MPP Exacerbates Pre-Existing Challenges
Viable asylum claims often take months, even years to process due to a growing backlog of cases and lack of funding. Most lawyers who assist asylum seekers do so pro bono. Without special funding to trudge through several hours of legal work, many lawyers are unsure how long they will be able to continue their work.
MPP Presents New Challenges for Lawyers
MPP forces lawyers to travel across the border to provide intakes and consultations. Many lawyers must wait in queues lasting up to four hours. Ivonee Ruiz, a lawyer specializing in immigration law, crossed the border on foot hoping to avoid long wait times back into the States. Most pro bono asylum attorneys do not have the time or funds to travel back and forth from Mexico to meet clients.
In addition, many attorneys are deterred from continuing their work due to a number of safety concerns. High crime rates have forced many anxious attorneys to discontinue their work or investigate new ways to represent their clients.
Lawyers Struggle to Represent Their Clients Remotely
Attorneys are stuck representing their clients remotely, hundreds of miles away from Mexican border towns. Remote representation presents more unprecedented difficulties. Many lawyers have difficulty staying in contact with their clients, with some lawyers even offering to buy phones for their clients. Attorneys are also worried about their clients’ physical safety, many of whom have been kidnapped, robbed, or even murdered.
Long Term Consequences of the Policy
Studies show that one’s chances of gaining asylum go up by as much as 500% when they have a lawyer. Unfortunately, forcing asylum seekers across the border has also meant pushing away many attorneys who would have otherwise represented them in court. While some lawyers continue to represent asylum seekers despite the challenges presented by the policy, they admit that the current state of legal representation is not sustainable. Representation rates have plummeted since MPP, and it is likely that many more lawyers will be unable to facilitate legal consultation.