Thousands of would-be illegal immigrants are being returned to await asylum hearings in Mexico as part of a program the Trump administration has credited with curbing the recent wave of family migration at the southwestern border.

The Migrant Protection Protocols—more colloquially known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy—are regulations issued by former secretary of homeland security Kirstjen Nielsen in December 2018. Under the MPP, a subset of individuals who claim to be seeking asylum after being apprehended at the border now must await the results of their immigration court hearings in Mexico, rather than being detained—or, more often, released on their own recognizance—in the United States.

Asylum seekers, especially from non-contiguous countries, pose a unique challenge to the immigration system. Preexisting laws and regulations mean that asylum seekers can only be detained for so long before being released, while the large immigration court backlog essentially guarantees that these time thresholds will be passed. The result is a system of de facto catch-and-release, in which an individual can simply claim asylum at the border and then disappear into the interior while his or her case is processed.

The stated goal of the “Remain in Mexico” policy at the time of its implementation was to curb the then-swelling crisis at the southwestern border, which was in no small part a product of this asylum loophole. Individuals apprehended seeking asylum would await the results of their hearings in Mexico, meaning that they could not abscond into the United States before their application is denied. Nearly 90 percent of applications are denied.

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