On 'Remain in Mexico' and Leaving the Biden Administration: An Audio Interview with Stephanie Leutert

"There’s no clearly articulated vision of what the next two years is going to look like at the border," says the border policy expert of the administration.

  
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Until July, Stephanie Leutert served in the Biden administration as a senior adviser for migration policy at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Leutert moved to Washington, DC, with the idea of helping end some of the worst, inhumane immigration policies implemented by the Trump administration, including the Migrant Protection Protocols program, often referred to as “Remain in Mexico.” The program stranded thousands of asylum seekers in tent camps and ad hoc housing in Mexican border cities, which have some of the country’s highest rates of crime and violence.

Leutert was tasked primarily with shutting down Remain in Mexico. In Nuevo Laredo—a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas where many asylum seekers were sent—Leutert has so far documented 150 kidnappings. Most of the kidnapped people are women and children who were held for ransom by members of organized crime after they were returned to Nuevo Laredo under the MPP program in the Trump era.

In July, Leutert resigned prior to a federal judge in Texas ordering the Biden administration to restart Remain in Mexico. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by attorney generals from Texas and Missouri to reinstate the program.

On Friday the Department of Homeland Security issued a new memo in an attempt to once again end the MPP program, which has “endemic flaws” and has “imposed unjustifiable human costs,” “pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts,” and failed to “address the root causes of irregular migration,” in the words of DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Despite the new memo, the Biden administration is still bound by the judge’s ruling to restart the program until the court injunction is lifted. The rollout, according to the administration, will happen this month.

Leutert, now director of the Central America and Mexico Policy Initiative at the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas in Austin, talks about what reinstating MPP means for border communities and asylum seekers. Leutert also talks about the friction within the administration between those who want to create the more “humane border” Biden promised and those more concerned about short-term political consequences. “There’s no clearly articulated vision of what the next two years is going to look like at the border,” she says.

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Correction: Leutert resigned in July, not August as previously reported.

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