Explainer-What is the Trump-era 'remain in Mexico' program the Supreme Court said Biden can end?

By Sofia Ahmed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that President Joe Biden can end a program put in place by his predecessor former President Donald Trump, which forces non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court dates.

Here are some answers to questions about how we got to this point and what happens next:

WHAT IS THE PROGRAM BIDEN SEEKS TO END AND WHY?

Trump, a Republican, launched the program officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), and commonly called "remain in Mexico," in 2019 as part of a broader crackdown on illegal immigration and asylum seekers.

Trump officials argued the program would deter what they called fraudulent asylum claims while advocates said it put vulnerable migrants, including families with young kids, in danger.

The initiative forced more than 65,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers back across the border. Many stayed in Mexico for months – and sometimes years – waiting to present their cases in U.S. courtrooms near the border.

Under Trump, makeshift encampments of asylum seekers formed in Mexico, and human rights groups said thousands were subjected to violent crimes.

Biden, a Democrat, criticized MPP as inhumane and suspended all new enrollments in the program on his first day in office in January 2021 as part of his efforts to roll back Trump's immigration policies.

Republicans have blasted these moves ahead of midterm congressional elections in November saying Biden's immigration policies have led to a record number of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border.

WHY WAS BIDEN STOPPED SHORT OF ENDING THE PROGRAM?

The states of Missouri and Texas sued to stop the Biden administration from ending the program and in August 2021 a federal judge sided with the states.

U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Texas, a Trump appointee, said the Biden administration violated federal regulatory law when it failed to consider "several of the main benefits" of the program and acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in ending it.

In an attempt to address the legal concerns, the Biden administration reissued a memo terminating MPP in October 2021.

But under court order, the Biden administration was forced to restart the MPP program in early December 2021. U.S. and Mexican officials said at the time that the administration added new humanitarian protections to address Mexico's concerns.

Later in December, the conservative-leaning 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Biden's renewed effort to end the program and sided with the lower court judge, which led Biden to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, on Thursday overturned the appeals court decision, allowing Biden to proceed with terminating the program.

The ruling was a victory for Biden, who appealed the lower court's decision, and his policy approach at the southern border. The case was sent back to the district court in Texas for further proceedings.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE BIDEN RESTARTED MPP?

Since the MPP program was restarted under court order, nearly 4,400 migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border have been sent back to Mexico, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security through mid-June.

Mexican officials raised humanitarian concerns about the re-start of the program and asked the United States to provide medical attention, COVID-19 vaccinations, resources for migrant shelters and legal advice to asylum seekers returning to Mexico.

The Biden administration promised new humanitarian protections for the revamped program. But advocates say the protections are not enough to make MPP safe and maintain the program undermines U.S. asylum law and international agreements.

In April in Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican border town near Texas, three asylum seekers in the MPP program were kidnapped while local officials were transporting them to a shelter.

WHAT OTHER WAYS ARE ASYLUM SEEKERS BLOCKED AT THE BORDER?

The Trump administration issued a separate order in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic known as Title 42 that allows border authorities to expel migrants without giving them a chance to claim asylum.

Like MPP, the Title 42 order was criticized by advocates and Democrats for turning away asylum seekers.

The Biden administration tried to end Title 42 in May, but was again blocked by a federal judge.

(Reporting by Sofia Ahmed in New York; Additional reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Aurora Ellis and Howard Goller)

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