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Legal aid groups that want little or no participation in the upgraded Remain in Mexico program

(Hill) – When forced by court to reintroduce the Stay in Mexico policy under Trump, the Biden administration pledged to improve the program by connecting registered people with free legal services.

But many of the nation’s nonprofits that provide legal services to migrants have told the Biden team they won’t support what they see as unethical policy, prompting the administration to begin a round of hearings. first for asylum seekers last week without any guarantees for them. will be able to secure legal support for them.

“It’s really more fundamental than ‘We don’t like what you’re doing, and therefore we’re not going to help,’ said Eleanor Acer, senior director of Refugees Advocacy at Human Rights First. you do it. provided legal assistance to Remain in Mexico applicants under the Trump administration.

“Many people at this point are genuinely concerned that officially enrolling in a program that they believe violates U.S. and international law, leaving them vulnerable to human rights abuses. – and I would say a major human rights violation.

Under a program run by the Biden administration, migrants seeking asylum are blocked from entering the country and sent across the border to Mexico to await trial in the US – just like they were under the Trump administration. It is a system that many advocates say has continued to fuel violence along the border, exacerbating the vulnerability of migrants.

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced their latest measure of what is officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) in early December, it committed to ensuring migrants who return about Mexico will have phone and internet access to connect with attorneys if they can secure paid or professional legal assistance.

But it also said it would proactively request that migrants be placed in the custody of US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) if they fear returning to Mexico. Those who say “yes” will have 24 hours to secure an attorney before the formal interview to determine their case.

However, legal service providers are often not interested in assisting with what is officially known as a non-reimbursement interview (NRI), even when the Department of Justice has issued a call to seek assistance. help from a lawyer.

And even when asylum seekers are returned to Mexico, many groups say they are hesitant to provide legal assistance, citing what they say is an inhumane program that places lawyers in difficult situations. dangerous situations like migrants while draining resources from other circumstances.

DHS appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision requiring it to implement MPP policy “in good faith.”

But in the meantime, the administration has held initial asylum hearings for those applying for the MPP.

According to Human Rights First data, since January 3, hearings on the first day have been conducted, 36 asylum seekers have been transported across the border, out of 200 who have registered to participate. MPP, according to Human Rights First data.

At a meeting in early January, administration officials expressed hope that legal assistance could be secured for migrants.

“We have had several conversations with legal service providers, service providers and others explaining what we are trying to create and the opportunity we are trying to create. Set up for individuals to meet and talk to an attorney on the other end of the line. I have been encouraged by many conversations,” a senior administration official told reporters.

“We are very committed to doing so, and we certainly hope that over time more and more organizations, individuals and entities will step up to provide representative information that we all know as very necessary.”

But multiple groups told The Hill they had no such intention, which has not changed since 73 legal service providers wrote. letter with the authorities in October saying they “refused to be complicit” in the MPP restart. Similar groups also organize a “walk” of a virtual call with DHS that same month to protest the plan to restart the program.

DHS’s main priority at this time is to support non-refundable interviews, which is considered one of the few ways to avoid enrolling in the MPP if migrants can show they have reasonable concerns about danger. upon returning to Mexico.

But advocates say that if the authorities were serious about providing assistance, they would give CBP detainees more than 24 hours to contact and consult with an attorney.

Nicolas Palazzo, staff attorney for the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas, says such interviews can last up to six hours.

“Assume that an organization will have the capacity to provide on-site attorneys – since they are being called on the hotline – and drop everything to talk to someone, prepare them, discuss a extremely traumatic sequence of events, explaining a confusing legal standard over the phone while the person is in CBP custody and then hoping to represent them over the phone, I mean, there’s a lot , very few organizations, if any, at least at the border, have the actual capacity to do so,” he said.

“This is a problem created by the regulator itself. You can’t really blame anyone but managing to design a program that is inherently flawed and then hoping that legitimate organizations will be able to drop everything to support people as quickly as possible. so. ”

While several nonprofits are reportedly considering whether to assist DHS with interviews, none of the organizations contacted by The Hill have confirmed their interest.

Margaret Cargioli, a direct lawyer for the Immigration Defenders Law Center, said her organization can assist with non-refundable interviews if a migrant is contacted, but they do not have a plan. formalize an agreement with DHS.

“We will strongly consider taking any measures to help anyone who is removed from the MPP,” she said.

“When you are left with the option of trying to help individuals who are set up to fail, it leaves supporters at a loss.”

Meanwhile, legal service providers are also skeptical that the interview process will be successful in removing from the program those feared to be sent to Mexico to await their cases. So far, they have not been able to get that data from DHS.

“Non-profit legal service providers have limited resources and a limited number of attorneys and a great need for services that we can never meet. So, does it make sense to redirect those already stretched resources to represent migrants in non-refit interviews when DHS can turn away the majority of them? And we can’t even get that data,” said Heidi Altman, policy director at the National Center for Immigration Justice.

Erika Pinheiro, director of litigation and policy at Al Otro Lado, said asylum seekers interviewed by a partner organization reported that they would be taken to Mexico regardless, another class of deterrence. for putting the job in an already difficult process.

“Trying to work within 24 hours with someone is enough to work through all of the most traumatic things, put them in order, so that person can explain them in a linear fashion for an interview – which that doesn’t make sense,” she said, adding that such efforts take time and trust.

“Even if an attorney is there for the initial screening and the NRI is there, there isn’t enough time to actually work with the person, and then when that person is returned to Mexico there is no plan to assist. What is the law for them?”

The organizations said that in addition to the non-refundable interview process, they were hesitant to engage on behalf of Mexico-based MPP clients as they worked to file asylum applications.

Human Rights First tracked more than 1,500 kidnappings and other cases of violence against migrants and asylum seekers between 2019 and 2020 during Trump’s oversight of the Remaining Area in Mexico.

But lawyers for migrants have also been caught up in turmoil, witnessing kidnappings and intimidation by gangs.

“The statistics for legal representation in Remain in Mexico are very small – they are always very, very low – and the attorneys who have crossed the border to represent them have continuously risked their safety and security. their security to do so, and the situation has only become more dangerous since 2019,” Acer said.

“When you’re sitting there trying to represent people who are repeatedly targeted for kidnapping and torture, it doesn’t just happen to them when they get here, but it happens to them while they’re waiting to file. asylum application in the US. It is a horrifying and traumatic experience for asylum seekers, but it is also painful for the lawyers trying to assist them.”

And interviews by nonprofits with MPP-registered asylum seekers recently cast doubt on the US government’s ability to deliver on its other commitments to improve conditions on the field, including providing transportation to their hearings at the U.S. border and providing safe and secure housing. .

“Living in Tijuana and seeing what people face here and there are clients who have passed away or cannot access medical care or are just living in horrible conditions as witnessed. ​children who have not been able to access education for many years – I can personally say Pinheiro.

Immigration advocates have called for the Biden administration to be more aggressive in combating the reimplementation of the MPP, noting that the new White House record is being contaminated by upholding the policies of its predecessor.

“This is a program invented by Stephen Miller as part of a migration approach based on deterrence and cruelty. It is designed to harm humans. It cannot be repaired or modified in any way that would lead to meaningful safeguards because it is designed to put people in a place of extreme vulnerability while they are waiting for something to happen. bare,” Altman said.

“So you can give someone a lawyer but that won’t stop them from being kidnapped or assaulted while they’re waiting in Mexico for their asylum hearing in the United States.”

https://kfor.com/news/legal-aid-groups-want-little-to-no-part-of-re-upped-remain-in-mexico-program/ Legal aid groups that want little or no participation in the upgraded Remain in Mexico program

JACLYN DIAZ

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