MPP Cases Highest Since Start of Pandemic

According to Immigration Court records obtained by TRAC, the number of new deportation cases under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) is on the rise after a year of month-over-month declines. Also known as "Remain in Mexico," under MPP individuals seeking asylum at the country's southwest border have been sent back to Mexico to await their immigration hearings. In September 2020, the Immigration Court recorded 1,133 new MPP cases, up from a low of 136 in May, and the highest since the start of the pandemic in March when 2,282 MPP cases were filed. A total of 24,540 MPP cases are currently pending before the Immigration Court.

The small but noteworthy increase in new MPP cases comes just as the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up the question of whether the MPP program is illegal[1]. A lower court blocked the MPP program in February 2020 for violating federal and international law, but the Supreme Court has allowed the program to continue.

The slight increase in MPP cases comes after a decline in MPP cases throughout 2020 (see Figure 1). In August 2019, the monthly number of new MPP cases reached its height of 12,339. By February 2020, that number had declined to 1,700. The U.S. government then closed the border entirely during the pandemic, driving down the number of new MPP cases even further to a low of just 204 in April. But since early summer, the number of MPP cases have begun to rebound slightly crossing the 1,000 mark in September for the first time since March. This suggests that although MPP numbers are down in 2020, MPP has not gone away as a border control strategy.

Figure 1: Number of New MPP Cases Recorded Each Month
(Click for larger image)

Most of the 1,133 cases filed in September 2020 were for asylum-seekers from Cuba (527), Ecuador (428), Nicaragua (84), Brazil (46), and Venezuela (14). Earlier this year, TRAC found that Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Brazilians were among the fastest-growing na­ti­o­na­li­ties in the Immigration Court backlog.

At the start of their cases, the overwhelming majority of immigrants in the MPP pro­gram do not have an attorney and this remained true in September. Just three out of 1,133—or less than 0.3%—immigrants had an attorney on record at the start of their cases. TRAC previously found that individuals in MPP are more likely to get an attorney in the months after their case begins, but in contrast to non-MPP ca­ses, this number remains dismally low. Indeed, at the end of September 2020, just 7.3 percent (or 4,968) of the nearly 68,000 MPP cases recorded having representation.

TRAC's MPP tool provides detailed data on MPP cases that are on record with the Immigration Courts. The tool is updated each month.



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.