By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Termination of the “Remain in Mexico” policy that Catholic leaders deemed immoral and inhumane is good news, they say, but more work is necessary to address immigration policy in the U.S.
Catholic leaders nationally and locally applauded the U.S. Supreme Court decision of June 30, which said the Secretary of Homeland Security’s termination of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy — was lawful.
Enacted in 2019, the MPP protocols required asylum-seekers at the southwest border to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearing. Immigration advocates deplored the policy, which they said resulted in death, violence or misery for tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers.
The 5-4 Supreme Court ruling prompted a joint statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) and Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) the same day:
“The implementation of MPP has obstructed due process and subjected people to the very dangers that forced them to seek refuge in the United States in the first place. With this ruling, we welcome the end of MPP.”
“Ours is both a nation of laws and a beacon of hope for many throughout the world. This should inspire us to work toward just and humane responses to forced migration, not embrace failed policies of the past. As Pope Francis has warned, we cannot limit ourselves to building ‘walls of fear’ … if we are to achieve meaningful progress in addressing these challenges.”
“While this ruling helps pave the way forward, it does not resolve the ongoing challenges at our country’s southwest border. We remain committed to supporting immigration policies that produce more sustainable solutions, respect the God-given dignity of migrants, and better reflect Christ’s call to welcome the stranger.”
In March, the USCCB, CLINIC, and CCUSA filed an amicus curiae brief in Biden vs. Texas, supporting the Secretary’s decision to terminate the program. They argued then that MPP is contrary to Catholic social teaching and illegal because it violates the United States’ principle of non-refoulement. That principle “prohibits the practice of returning refugees and asylum seekers to any territory where they are likely to face threats to their life or freedom based on certain characteristics.”
President Joe Biden had suspended MPP on his first day in office and formally sought to end the program months later. Lower courts, however, ordered its reinstatement in response to a lawsuit from the states of Texas and Missouri, Catholic News Service (CNS) reported. Former President Trump created the policy in an effort to curb the influx of those arriving at the southern border to seek asylum in the U.S.
CNS reported that from “January 2019, when the Trump administration started the program, to the end of 2020, nearly 70,000 migrants were sent back to Mexico to wait for their court hearings, according to the American Immigration Council” (CNS, 6-30-22).
Kent Ferris, director of the Diocese of Davenport Social Action Office, has witnessed the devastation of MPP up close. “In 2019, as part of an accompanying group organized by Iowa City Catholic Worker, I traveled to El Paso and Ciudad Juarez with a mother and infant son, while the husband/father was separated, made to stay in Mexico,” he said.
“Our group, minus the mother and son, ventured into Mexico where we met with and broke bread with the father. He spoke of having been kidnapped and tortured while in Mexico. Though eventually granted asylum in the United States, the scars of such treatment will be with them forever. Doing away with MPP can allow our country to return to more humane treatment of those appealing to us with credible fear of injury or death, all while we impress upon Congress to work towards immigration reform that is decades overdue.”
Health care professional Emily Sinnwell, with the Iowa City Catholic Worker, provocatively changed one of the words in MPP to express her feelings about the policy and her appreciation for its termination. “We applaud the Supreme Court’s ruling affirming the president’s ability to end the immoral and illegal Migrant Persecution Protocols.”
The lay-led faith community has sponsored more than 70 refugees through MPP and Title 42 in the last two years, she said in a statement. “We pray the federal courts will next take decisive action to support the administration’s fight to end Title 42, another executive order the previous president issued to close the border to refugees using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pre-text.”
Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, also called for an end to Title 42. The pandemic-era policy led to the Border Patrol turning away “hundreds of thousands of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past two years.” He said “his organization knows firsthand ‘the irreparable harm caused by these policies’ and it also knows that the process of welcoming asylum-seekers can be ‘safe, humane and orderly’’’ (CNS, 6-30-22).
Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said, “The ICC welcomes the Supreme Court decision allowing the administration to terminate the Migrant Protection Program. What’s happening at the border points to the sheer necessity of Congress passing merciful legislation that addresses migration flows in an orderly way.”