DOJ postpones 'Remain in Mexico' hearings in response to coronavirus threat

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The Trump administration has postponed hearings related to the “Remain in Mexico” policy in response to the coronavirus crisis -- although it confirmed that the program itself is not being stopped.

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced the change to procedures related to the policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), earlier this week as part of the broader response by the government to the spread of the virus.

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“Due to circumstances resulting from COVID-19, all Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) master calendar and merit hearings presently scheduled through April 22 will be rescheduled,” the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review said on its website. “Neither the MPP program nor any hearings will be canceled.”

The "Remain in Mexico" policy has formed the centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to combat the crisis at the southern border. It involves sending migrants back to Mexico to await their immigration hearings rather than holding them in the U.S. or releasing them into the interior.

Officials say it has been vital in bringing down numbers at the border, shrinks down the time to get cases processed, and has reduced the “pull factor” bringing migrants north. Specifically, it helps end “catch and release” by which migrants were detained and then released into the interior of the U.S. But opponents say migrants are not given due process, and they are often sent back into areas where they are at risk of kidnapping and violence.

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It has been subject to court challenges and was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the Supreme Court has issued a stay allowing the policy to continue as litigation surrounding it continues.

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The EOIR said that any migrant with a hearing date through April 22 should present themselves at a port of entry to get a new hearing notice.

“[Department of Homeland Security] and EOIR are deeply committed to ensuring that individuals ‘have their day in court’ while also ensuring the health and safety of aliens, our frontline officers, immigration court professionals and our citizens,” the office said in a statement.