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March 12, 2021

Letter to DHS and the State Department on the MPP Wind Down Process

Dear Secretaries Mayorkas and Blinken:

Our faith-based, humanitarian, legal services, immigration, and human rights organizations and law school clinics welcome the administration’s initial steps to wind down the illegal and cruel Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). We applaud the humane reception of the more than 1,400 asylum seekers brought to safety in the United States to date, the rapid processing of asylum seekers in the Matamoros tent encampment, and reported discussions to expand MPP processing to additional ports of entry. The recent designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela is also a crucial and long overdue measure that will safeguard thousands of refugees from deportation. We write to recommend additional actions by the administration as the process to end MPP continues and to request further engagement and coordination to ensure people seeking refugee protection can find safety in the United States.

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We urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to immediately extend MPP processing to additional ports of entry and U.S. consulates, quickly expand processing to all individuals subjected to MPP, better coordinate with bi-national humanitarian and legal service providers assisting asylum seekers, provide necessary support for border communities welcoming asylum seekers, and address continued issues with the registration process. In addition, as many of our groups have repeatedly written to this administration, DHS must stop the misuse of Title 42 to block and expel asylum seekers, including many African and Haitian asylum seekers, to danger and restore refugee protections at the border, as required by U.S. law and treaty commitments. DHS should initiate processing for asylum seekers at the border in addition to those in MPP, including at ports of entry. It is crucial that the administration’s decisions and plans be clearly, effectively, and publicly communicated to ensure asylum seekers understand how they will be brought to safety and to avoid further confusion at the border.

Bring All Families and Adults Subjected to MPP to Safety in the United States

DHS should speed up this initial phase of MPP processing and quickly bring to safety the many families and adults forced to wait in danger in Mexico who are not currently eligible for processing out of MPP because they do not have active cases before the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Individuals who received in absentia or other final removal orders, including those under review before federal courts of appeals, should be permitted to enter the United States. Kidnappings, rape, torture and other violent attacks caused many people returned to Mexico to miss MPP hearings. Asylum seekers still forced to wait in Mexico continue to face this violence. Barriers to legal representation created by MPP and inhumane living conditions forced others to abandon efforts to seek U.S. protection. Asylum seekers with bona fide protection claims were denied asylum during hearings plagued by due process violations and conducted under illegal Trump administration rules, including the now enjoined third-country transit asylum ban. We are concerned that transportation arrangements have not been announced for individuals who must transit through the highly dangerous regions in Mexico to reach a U.S. port of entry, nor for the many individuals forced to return or deported to their home countries during MPP. The horrors of MPP will not end and redress for those harmed by this monstrous policy cannot be realized until all those subjected to MPP are provided a fair opportunity to request refugee protection from safety in the United States.

Ensure Fair Opportunities to Apply for Protection to Those Subjected to the Illegal MPP Policy

All individuals forced into the MPP process, which was tainted by substantial due process and human rights violations, must also be eligible for processing out of MPP and should be paroled into the United States. Working with the Department of Justice, DHS should use its existing legal authority to rescind all in absentia MPP removal orders, initiate a thorough review of other MPP removal orders, and agree to reopen these cases, whenever requested. DHS should also ensure that Venezuelans who were outside the United States because of their forced return to Mexico under MPP on the date TPS was designated are deemed eligible for its protection. To avoid family separation all family members should be paroled together, including those not placed in MPP. DHS should also announce a parole procedure for individuals under MPP who fled into the United States while their cases were pending so that their cases can be transferred to the immigration court nearest where they are currently living.

Improve Communication to Reduce Confusion at the Border

As the process to end MPP continues, DHS and the Department of State (DOS) must better publicly communicate U.S. asylum and border policies to avoid dangerous and unnecessary confusion among asylum seekers at the border. The lack of accurate information makes asylum seekers even more vulnerable to exploitation and pushes some to undertake dangerous crossings in search of safety in the United States. As the MPP tent encampment in Matamoros closes, another unsanitary and unsafe informal encampment has sprung up in Tijuana with asylum-seeking families and individuals desperate for information about how to request U.S. refugee protection at the port of entry. Clearly communicating the administration’s processes and plans, including for asylum seekers who are not in MPP, would greatly help to alleviate this confusion and improve the ability of local organizations to provide legal and humanitarian support vital to the successful wind down of MPP.

Provide Necessary Support for Border Shelters and Other Humanitarian Service Providers

To accomplish the important work of transiting asylum seekers from Mexico safely into the United States and onto their destination locations, DHS should ensure that border shelters and other humanitarian service providers receive necessary support. It is crucial that DHS ensure people processed out of MPP are transported to shelters at the border and in nearby communities ready to assist them. DHS entities have previously provided such transportation and no provision in law prevents DHS from continuing to do so. The agency should also continue to take steps to identify and distribute financial and other support to crucial civil society partners providing food, housing, medical care, and mental health support as well as arranging onward transportation for asylum seekers. While federal funds made available through FEMA are welcome, many smaller faith-based and other non-profit community organizations are not able to access this support. Further, we encourage coordination with the Mexican government and international organizations in consultation with civil society groups to ensure that during any continued wait in Mexico, asylum seekers have access to food, healthcare, shelter, and protection from violence. The government should also ensure that asylum seekers processed out of MPP are able to support themselves and their families as they wait for their immigration court hearings by informing them of their potential eligibility for work authorization - based either on their pending asylum applications or parolee status - and promptly adjudicating requests for work authorization.

Address Bottlenecks in Registration and Processing

We note with concern continued issues in the registration and processing of individuals eligible to be removed from MPP. Many asylum seekers attempting to register with the CONECTA system have received delayed or inaccurate confirmation notices for registration interviews, not received registration calls at their scheduled time, and had difficulty contacting the registration hotlines with questions or to reschedule missed calls, as some telephone numbers are not operational or go unanswered. DHS has not provided written guidelines on CONECTA pre-processing or criteria for requests to expedite processing due to urgent medical, safety, or other vulnerabilities, which makes it difficult for legal services providers to share accurate information. Steps should immediately be taken to provide public guidance on processing procedures and increase the capacity of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to complete pre-processing registration, so that individuals in MPP are not unnecessarily forced to wait in danger. In addition, DHS should ensure asylum seekers may have access to their attorneys at ports of entry during processing and receive necessary immigration documents (including printed I-94 parole forms and fully filled out G-56 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) interview notices) and updated information on ICE check-in obligations in a language they understand to facilitate asylum seekers’ onward travel and registration with ICE at destination locations. Finally, we encourage DHS to employ community-based case management services and to refrain from requiring invasive ankle monitor surveillance devices.

Ensure Coordination Among Government Entities, International Organizations, and NGOs 

We urge the administration to convene bi-weekly calls including officials from the White House, DHS, DOS, Department of Justice, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, state and local agencies, IOM, UNHCR, and UNICEF, along with representatives from the Welcoming Committees and border region Task Forces as well as national and local organizations working in the United States and Mexico to transit asylum seekers in MPP to safety in the United States. We would welcome an opportunity to provide the administration updates on the process to end MPP and to raise and address emerging concerns.

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