The Biden administration is sending U.S. taxpayer dollars to northern Mexico as part of the reinstated Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, a Trump-era program requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated.
The problem is, the administration won’t say how much, or what these funds are being spent on, or who is receiving them. Republican lawmakers have been asking the State Department for answers to these questions since December, but so far heard nothing in response. On Tuesday night, a dozen Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken demanding more information.
The background here is that President Biden terminated the MPP program, commonly known as Remain in Mexico, soon after taking office, but a federal judge ruled last August that the administration had acted in violation of federal law and ordered it to restart the program. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case but did not block the lower court’s ruling that the program be reinstated.
So far, it seems, the Biden administration is dragging its feet, even as the border crisis drags on with record numbers of illegal immigrants being arrested every month. In their letter, the Republican lawmakers said they have “serious concerns with the Department of State’s refusal to provide information on U.S. foreign assistance funds” being used for Remain in Mexico. The GOP lawmakers, led by ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul, have been asking for information about the reinstatement of the program since December, when the Biden administration announced it had reached an agreement with Mexico to resume Remain in Mexico.
But no answers have been forthcoming, either from Blinken or the White House. To date, the State Department has not provided a breakdown of its funding for MPP-related projects in northern Mexico, including what organizations are receiving funds, and how those funds are being spent. Nor has it provided lawmakers with any information about funding for migrant shelters in Mexico.
The question of shelters is important, because in order for Remain in Mexico to work, migrants enrolled in the program must have somewhere to go once they are returned to Mexico by U.S. border authorities. Presumably, the State Department has some criteria for who gets enrolled in the MPP program and who actually gets sent back to Mexico, perhaps based on whether there is bedspace available at a shelter in northern Mexico. But no one, not even the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, McCaul, seems to know.
Another concern is that many more migrants are eligible for Remain in Mexico than the relatively low numbers that are actually enrolled, and that the Biden administration is limiting enrollment on purpose, either because of limited availability of shelter and bedspace, or some other reason.
Consider the enrollment figures. During the last two years of the Trump administration, approximately 68,000 migrants were enrolled in MPP, an average of 400 people a day. With the shuttering and subsequent resumption of the program, however, those numbers have plummeted dramatically. From early December to the end of January, just 673 migrants were enrolled in MPP, and only 403 were returned to Mexico after their enrollment, according to data released this month by the Department of Homeland Security.
What’s more, news reports from the border indicate that a growing number of migrants are opting to return to Mexico’s interior rather than wait near the border in what are often dangerous conditions. DHS has said it is facilitating transportation for migrants to and from Mexican shelters hundreds of miles from the border, including to the Mexican industrial hub of Monterrey.
It remains unclear exactly how much is being spent on these services and where exactly the funds are going. The whole thing is opaque, and maybe the Biden administration would like to keep it that way. If U.S. funds are going to Mexico to pay for transportation for migrants from, say, Brownsville, Texas, to Monterrey, it’s a reasonable assumption that some of that money is ending up in the hands of the cartels and criminal gangs that control much of northern Mexico, and generally keep close tabs on illegal immigrants transiting through their territory.
Same goes for U.S. funding for migrant shelters and other services in northern Mexico. It might well be that the State Department has no idea where these funds are going or what they’re being used for. If that’s the case, no wonder Blinken isn’t getting back to these GOP lawmakers.
The upshot is that right now, no one really knows who or what the State Department is funding in Mexico, or what the criteria are for sending migrants back there under MPP. All we know for sure is that we’re on track to arrest more than 2 million illegal immigrants along the southwest border this year, and the Biden administration has no plans to end this crisis of its own making.