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  • Yasmine Vakili

Biden’s End to ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy: What does this mean for Latin American Immigration?

People around the world choose different reasons to immigrate outside of their home country to the United States. For some, it may be for travel, a new job opportunity, or joining a family member or spouse. However, for many Latin Americans, fleeing their country to evade war, economic stress, poverty, or violence due to political strife is the only option.


Those that leave their home country because they are seeking protection from human rights violations or persecution are considered asylum seekers. According to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - a historical document outlining rights each person in the world is entitled to - everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.

In June of 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court authorized President Biden to end one of the stricter Trump-era immigration policies called the Remain in Mexico policy, which had installed new procedures for asylum-seeking immigrants crossing the Mexico-US border. Mexican immigrants seeking asylum that arrives at the US border would be instructed to await their asylum hearing in Mexico instead of receiving shelter in the United States. Nicaragua, Cuba, Colombia, and Venezuela were among the nationalities included in the program, along with other Central and South American countries.


The policy, which had been instituted in December of 2018, began in San Ysidro, California, near the port of entry bordering Tijuana. By June 2019, 12,000 immigrants had returned to Mexico, and by September of 2019, that number rose to over 47,000 immigrants. The policy had also faced significant legal battles, with the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and others filing lawsuits such as Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen challenged the Remain in Mexico policy by citing that it violated the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act; which removed de facto discrimination against any ethnic group from American immigration policy, and international law. Nevertheless, the policy remained in place.


This policy has left many immigrants in dangerous situations. According to The Guardian, 636 of those that had returned to their home country faced violent crimes, including rape, assault, and torture. In September of 2019, less than 10,000 asylum cases had been reviewed by U.S. courts, with over 4,000 being dismissed without being evaluated. According to the San Diego Tribune, only 11 seekers had been granted asylum in the U.S., which created an admission rate of 0.1% for Mexican immigrants. Other arriving immigrants had an admission rate of around 20%. Trump also only designated Cuba, Eurasia, the Baltics, Iraq, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador for in-country processing.


These stricter procedures towards Latin American countries were all a part of former President Donald Trump’s campaign, which was built upon blaming Latin American immigrants - especially Mexican-American immigrants, documented or undocumented - for unemployment trends for white U.S. citizens and increased crime such as rape, murder, and theft. Trump thought it was necessary to curb “meritless” asylum claims by migrants who he believed just wanted to be released into the U.S. However, choosing to seek asylum is rarely ever done without good reason: to do so is a difficult decision that may mean leaving one’s family and friends behind and entering an unfamiliar country with a foreign language.


It was not an easy journey to get the Supreme Court to overturn ‘Remain in Mexico'. In February of 2021, Biden initially ended the Remain in Mexico Policy, however, in August of 2021, the Supreme Court required that Biden revive the policy and that the US government should be required to enforce the policy. Therefore, in December of 2021, after negotiations with Mexico and some alterations, Biden resumed the Remain in Mexico policy. Finally, in June of 2022, a few weeks after the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, the Remain in Mexico policy was overturned at a vote of 5-4. Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh were the two right wing judges that sided with the three liberal judges in the vote, while just a year ago, they both voted to reinstate the policy after Biden had attempted to rescind it.


According to Amnesty International, a nonprofit human rights organization, steps toward humanizing immigrant populations and welcoming people from other countries in fact strengthens countries and their various communities. Biden’s ability to welcome more immigrants into the United States furthers diversity within US communities and supports the growing trend in Latin American immigration to the United States. Since the 1960s, the US has experienced exponential growth in Latin American immigration, with Mexico being the leading population, closely followed by Puerto Rico and Cuba. Although the political economy and laws impact the rates of immigrants coming in from Latin American countries, every country in Central and South America is represented in substantial numbers in the United States. In 1970, the Latin America population was around 7.6 million. Today, it is estimated to be around 62.1 million, according to census data.


According to Pew Research Center, foreign born populations have also been significantly increasing, especially in the Latin American community. For the first time in five years, Mexican immigrants outnumbered non-Mexican immigrants at border apprehensions in 2020. Significant changes are happening in immigrant communities, and many believe it is the duty of the United States to accommodate these global changes.


Although the overturn of “Remain in Mexico” established more rights for immigrants, many immigration rights activists believe there is still a long way to go. For example, popular language referring to immigrants in federal proceedings, such as ‘aliens,’ has been viewed as derogatory by immigrant advocate communities and the left wing. Terminology such as ‘alien’ is dehumanizing since the language implies that undocumented immigrants are ‘otherworldly’ rather than someone without the proper paperwork. Although states such as California and New York have put significant effort into removing the word and similar dehumanizing anti-immigration language from legal paperwork, it still remains a popular word in federal terminology, especially among many Republican lawmakers. In January of 2021, Biden proposed to remove aliens from US immigration laws and replace that language with ‘noncitizens,’ however, the legislation has not changed. Although small incremental changes in US immigration laws have happened thanks to the overturn of ‘Remain in Mexico’, there are still many areas of civil unrest within immigration policy that could use modern revisioning.


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