Contrasting Experiences: MPP vs. Non-MPP Immigration Court Cases

According to Immigration Court records through the end of November 2019, over 56,000 immigrants have been sent back to Mexico to await their immigration hearings under the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as "Remain in Mexico." In the months after the program was announced last January, the number of immigrants forced to await their hearings in Mexico climbed rapidly. Although arrests by Customs and Border Protection along the southwest border peaked in May, the number of immigrants assigned to the MPP program climbed throughout the summer months until peaking in August. See Figure 1.

New MPP Filings Each Month by Court Location
(Click for larger image)

This report compares two groups of immigrants whose Notices to Appear in Immigration Court were issued between January and November 2019, but who differed in whether they were sent back to Mexico to await their hearings or allowed to remain in the United States.

MPP Results in Slightly Longer Wait Times for First Hearing

Court data show that a slightly larger proportion of those assigned to MPP are still waiting for their first hearing, compared to those who were allowed to remain in the U.S. This was true particularly as MPP numbers climbed, because the special courts that have been set up to hear MPP cases apparently struggled to keep up. The latest available court records show that 39 percent of immigrants required to remain in Mexico are still waiting to have their initial Master Calendar hearings compared to 36 percent of those who were allowed to stay in the U.S.

Asylum Seekers in the US are 7 Times More Likely to Have an Attorney

Immigrants who were allowed to wait in the U.S. were over seven times more likely to find an attorney to represent them than those diverted to the MPP program. As TRAC previously examined in a July 2019 report, access to attorneys is extremely limited for those required to remain in Mexico. Representation rates do generally increase over time the longer individuals have to obtain attorneys. So far only 4 percent of immigrants in MPP cases have been able to find representation. In contrast, nearly a third (32%) of those who were allowed to remain in the U.S. have obtained counsel over the same time period.

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].

Most Asylum Seekers Attend Their Hearings Unless Forced to Remain in Mexico

Nine out of ten (89%) immigrants who are allowed to remain in the United States attended every court hearing thus far. The situation is starkly different for immigrants required to stay in Mexico: a startling 50 percent have failed to show up for a hearing, which led to a judge closing the case with an in absentia decision[2].

The difference in hearing attendance between those who are allowed to remain in the U.S. and those under MPP reflects the challenges asylum seekers face in the border communities where they have been required to remain. Immigrants face kidnapping, rape, and other forms of violence along the border. Further, without a permanent address, there is no mechanism for the Immigration Courts to notify immigrants about the date, time, and location of their hearing. Notices that do reach immigrants may not have accurate or complete information about where and how to cross the border into the U.S. to attend their hearing. Many immigrants without resources to sustain themselves during their wait or who become victims of criminal activity decide to give up their asylum application and either return to the home they fled or try to relocate elsewhere.

Most Asylum Cases Remain Open

Although a much larger proportion of MPP cases have been closed, often by in absentia decisions when immigrants are not present for their hearing, more than half (57%) of MPP cases remain open and pending. By contrast, over three-quarters (78%) of non-MPP cases remain open and pending.

However, regardless of whether an applicant waits in Mexico or the U.S., relatively few cases have been granted asylum or other forms of relief. This is because the asylum process takes much longer to process. Asylum cases that were granted relief in FY 2019 took on average over 1,000 days - or about 3 years - to decide. MPP and non-MPP cases examined in this report have been pending for a relatively short period of time. Accordingly, cases completed thus far tend to be cases which take little time to resolve. These are likely to be those in which applicants failed to attend their hearings, or where they lacked representation and thus were limited in their ability to meaningfully argue their case.


TRAC's Free MPP App Now Updated

TRAC's updated MPP web query tool allows the public to drill into these data to examine in more detail what has occurred at particular hearing locations or for specific nationalities. For example, users can examine how representation may be related to hearing attendance, or how hearing attendance impacts case outcomes for different nationalities and hearing locations.


[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".

[2] In the MPP program, unlike those waiting in the U.S., in absentia decisions did not automatically result in a removal order. Sometimes the judge, particularly for those hearing MPP cases in California, simply terminated the case. While a removal order barred an individual from entering the U.S. for years, terminations imposed no such bar.

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.