Posted on August 1, 2022

Biden Administration Divided on Fate of Remain in Mexico Program

Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2022

The Biden administration is divided over whether and how quickly to end Remain in Mexico, a controversial Trump-era immigration program, despite winning a Supreme Court case that allows it to do so, according to administration officials and others familiar with the matter.

In a matter of days or weeks, the administration will have the authority to wind down the program, which requires migrants seeking asylum to live in Mexico for the duration of their court proceedings, after a federal court in Texas formally lifts its injunction blocking them from doing so.

But whether to completely end the program is a matter of debate on the White House’s National Security Council, where some senior officials have expressed hesitation, the people familiar with the matter said.


The NSC officials have cited a number of reasons for their wariness, including that they are concerned that the publicity around ending the program could attract more people to cross the border illegally, the people said. Specifically, the program remains one of the only deterrent tools the administration can use to handle asylum-seeking migrants from Cuba and Venezuela, countries that aren’t taking back any deported citizens from the U.S.

They are also worried that ending the program entirely would upend continuing immigration negotiations with the Mexican government, which would prefer to see the program remain in place, they said.


The U.S. and Mexico maintain near-constant negotiations over how many illegal migrants Mexico is willing to take back from the U.S. under various immigration policies, including the Remain in Mexico program and a separate pandemic-era policy known as Title 42.

NSC officials have also argued that ending the program could immediately prompt more litigation by Texas and other Republican-led states that could force the government to quickly start the program back up again, the people said. An initial lawsuit by Texas and Missouri prompted the administration to restart the program last fall as the case was pending with the Supreme Court.

The view of these top officials is at odds with most of the administration’s other immigration officials, including at the Department of Homeland Security, the people said.

Officials across DHS, who are rarely in lockstep on immigration matters, all view the program as too costly and time consuming, the people familiar with the matter said. Officials with Customs and Border Protection, for example, must perform screenings of any migrants placed into the program to see whether they qualify for an exemption on the basis that they have a reasonable fear of persecution in Mexico. That takes several hours, compared with the shorter process of either sending migrants back to Mexico under Title 42 or releasing migrants into the U.S. with a court date.

A DHS spokesman said that when the injunction against ending Remain in Mexico is lifted, “DHS will take immediate steps to terminate [the program] as soon as legally permissible and urges the courts to act expeditiously once the judgment has issued.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is spending tens of millions of dollars to maintain tent courts at the border for the program at a time when it faces a $400 million budget shortfall. And other DHS officials must stay in constant touch with Mexican shelters and local immigration officials to check on the safety of migrants placed into the program, a responsibility they don’t assume for deported migrants.