Access to Attorneys Difficult for Those Required to Remain In Mexico

Since this administration announced the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) on January 24, 2019, more commonly referred to as "Remain in Mexico," the number of individuals and families diverted to this program has been expanding rapidly. This report takes an early look at one key challenge these individuals face: finding an attorney to help them successfully argue their asylum claims in Immigration Court. Without representation, the odds of securing asylum are dismal. Few asylum seekers over the years have been successful in obtaining asylum without an experienced attorney to help them prepare and present their cases[1].

According to the latest court records available, as of the end of June 2019, a total of 1,155 MPP cases had already been decided. Yet only 14 of these—just 1.2 percent—were represented.

Because of the recency of the MPP program, cases decided this quickly may be far from typical. A better indicator may be representation rates on the much larger number of pending cases. As of the end of June 2019, there were 12,997 pending MPP cases on the Immigration Court rolls. Of these, only 163 individuals had found representation—just 1.3 percent.

Clearly, the record thus far is that very few asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico have been able to secure representation for their upcoming Immigration Court proceedings.

Comparing MPP Representation Rates with Regular Court Cases

It seems likely that representation rates will increase as individuals have more time to look for an attorney. This is certainly true for individuals in regular court cases. In cases that have been waiting up to a month since their notice to appear was issued, court records show that relatively few (6.9%) have an attorney who has registered their appearance in the case. By three months, however, about a quarter (23.6%) have secured representation, and this has grown to over a third (35.4%) within six months for pending cases.

Figure 1. Finding Representation Difficult if Immigrant Must Remain In Mexico
(Click for larger image)

While MPP cases that have been waiting longer do have somewhat higher representation rates, they remain far below regular cases pending for the same period. See Figure 1. At as much as three months, while 23.6 percent of regular cases that are pending have found representation, only 4.1 percent of MPP cases had. See Table 1.

Table 1. Immigration Court Cases and Representation Rates, as of June 30, 2019
Waiting Since Case Began Regular Cases MPP Cases
All Regular With Attorney Percent All MPP With Attorney Percent
1 month 13,198 906 6.9% 5,880 0 0.0%
2 months 20,511 3,707 18.1% 5,167 19 0.4%
3 months 26,615 6,290 23.6% 2,613 107 4.1%
4 months 30,805 7,871 25.6% 316 23 7.3%
5 months 29,391 8,606 29.3% 159 19 11.9%

TRAC's New MPP App

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University has been able to obtain case-by-case MPP records on individuals assigned to the program. The latest available data tracks 14,152 individuals through the end of June 2019.

Accompanying this report, a new public MPP web query tool allows the public for the first time to drill into these data and follow the growing numbers of individuals required to remain in Mexico. The new tool will be updated as new data arrive to allow the public to examine how these cases are resolved, and to contrast outcomes depending upon representation, nationality, hearing location and hearing attendance.


[1] See, for example, "Odds of Gaining Asylum Five Times Higher When Represented," and "Representation Makes Fourteen-Fold Difference in Outcome: Immigration Court 'Women with Children' Cases,".

TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact or call 315-443-3563.