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AILA Doc. No. 21012700 | Dated January 27, 2021
WASHINGTON, DC — Two years after the implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, newly released government records reveal U.S. immigration agencies' efforts in 2019 to rapidly deport thousands of people from the United States through the little-known Electronic Nationality Verification (ENV) program.
The records reveal previously undisclosed details about how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its component agencies—U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—touted the ENV program as a way to expedite the repatriation of many Central Americans without obtaining travel documents from their home country, a process which traditionally involved contact with foreign consulates. U.S. and international law give foreign nationals a right to contact their consulate when arrested. The records provide no information about how DHS involves consulates when processing a foreign national through ENV.
The American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Human Rights Watch, and the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP obtained the documents through a lawsuit to compel the release of records about the Migrant Protection Protocols. The released documents include a 2019 DHS memo describing how the governments in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras agreed to pilot ENV with their nationals.
Fast-track procedures at the border, such as ENV, rush the complex process of evaluating the claims of individuals expressing their fear of persecution if returned to their home countries and increase the likelihood of wrongly deporting someone who could be harmed or killed upon return. The rapid process of deportations also makes it more difficult for attorneys or advocates to access a person prior to their removal, which could increase the possibility of erroneous removals.
The U.S. government has provided little information about the ENV program—only fleeting references by officials about the program's existence—or the number of people removed through the program.
Former Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan testified in February 2019 that 17,000 people had been removed through the ENV program. Separately, ICE’s fiscal year 2021 budget justification to Congress released in February 2020 reported an even higher number, stating that the agency repatriated 35,859 people through ENV on 360 chartered flights since the expansion of ENV on July 25, 2019.
As of January 2021, no further data on ENV removals has been made public. In a recent annual overview of enforcement operations, ICE publicly credited ENV for the increased deportation of families in 2020 but failed to provide specific or updated numbers.
Other documents uncovered through the FOIA lawsuit include MPP Standard Operating Procedures for ICE personnel in San Antonio and El Paso. This document is a handbook guiding the rapid return of nearly 65,000 people—many of them seeking asylum—from the United States to Mexico to wait for their U.S. immigration court hearings. Asylum seekers, often families with children, have been forced to wait for months in extremely dangerous cities in Mexico.
These records provide important new insight into some of the border policies of the Trump administration that could help inform President Biden’s new vision on immigration and border enforcement. They are also relevant to lawmakers considering the nomination for a new secretary for DHS and debating government funding levels for immigration enforcement in 2022.
“Our border policies over the last four years have been defined by a relentless drive to undermine due process with the singular goal of detaining and deporting people as quickly as possible. ENV is the latest example of these polices. The Biden administration will need to reconsider all of these programs in developing a new approach to border enforcement that is committed to providing people with a fair day in court,” said Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council.
“The lack of transparency around rapid-removal programs like MPP and ENV must stop with the Biden administration. Though this administration is rightly reversing course with respect to the MPP program, it should also reject programs like ENV where removal comes at the expense of due process and the opportunity to present a full case for asylum,” said Emily Creighton, legal director of transparency at the American Immigration Council.
“For two years the government has been short circuiting due process to deport tens of thousands of people using methods that are almost completely shrouded from the public eye. Government transparency and accountability should not depend on lawsuits being filed to force sunlight onto these practices. Collectively our organizations urge President Biden to halt ENV immediately as well as the many other programs that violate the fundamental American values of fairness and justice,” said Gregory Chen, senior director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“The Biden administration should stop the abuse of asylum seekers at U.S. borders by ending summary and fast-track removals without adequate due process checks,” said Clara Long, associate director in the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of blocking asylum seekers and flouting principles of due process, the Biden administration should focus on setting up a fair and efficient asylum system that ensures humane and dignified treatment for those seeking safety at U.S. borders.”
For more information, contact:
Maria Frausto, American Immigration Council, 202 507-7526, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Immigration Council works to strengthen America by shaping how America thinks about and acts toward immigrants and immigration and by working toward a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection and unleashes the energy and skills that immigrants bring. The Council brings together problem solvers and employs four coordinated approaches to advance change—litigation, research, legislative and administrative advocacy, and communications. Follow the latest Council news and information on ImmigrationImpact.com and Twitter @immcouncil.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members. Follow AILA on Twitter @AILANational.
Human Rights Watch is a non-profit, independent organization that investigates allegations of human rights violations in more than 90 countries around the world, including in the United States, by interviewing witnesses, gathering information from a variety of sources, and issuing detailed reports. Where human rights violations have been found, Human Rights Watch advocates for the enforcement of those rights with governments and international organizations and mobilizes public pressure for change. Follow Human Rights Watch’s work at www.hrw.org and on Twitter @hrw.
Winston & Strawn LLP is an international law firm with 15 offices located throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. More information about the firm is available at www.winston.com.
Cite as AILA Doc. No. 21012700.
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