Nearly 4,000 MPP Cases Transferred Out of MPP Courts Under Biden, But Most Cases Still Remain In Mexico
The asylum process along the U.S.-Mexico border represents a hotly-debated political issue in need of non-partisan data. During the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland (DHS) implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP)—also known as 'Remain in Mexico'—in January 2019 in an effort to restrict those seeking asylum from entering the United States. Under the Biden administration, DHS has ended MPP and begun to admit asylum seekers into the United States who were originally excluded under MPP.
Based on case-by-case court records, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University matched pending MPP cases at the end of January 2021 with the corresponding court records on these same cases at the end of March 2021. TRAC analyzed this matched cohort of individual cases to provide the public with data-driven insights into the evolution of how MPP cases are being handled by the federal government.
On February 11, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security announced a phased process to allow individuals enrolled in MPP to enter the country to complete their court proceedings. Using the matched cohort of records from the Immigration Court, TRAC found that the immigration cases of nearly 3,911 people out of 26,432 pending cases enrolled in MPP at the end of January were transferred out of MPP hearing locations so far during the Biden administration. These individuals joined 2,987 people with pending MPP cases who, due to special circumstances, were allowed to enter the country during the Trump administration to await their court hearings.
Rates of case transfers out of MPP varied by court, from a high of 28 percent of cases assigned to the MPP court in Brownsville, Texas, transferred to a non-MPP court, to a low of just three percent of cases assigned to the MPP court in Laredo, Texas. Even though nearly 4,000 cases had been transferred away from the border in February and March, more than 85 percent—or 22,521—of the 26,432 pending cases in MPP courts at the end of January have not been recorded as transferred out of an MPP court by the end of March. See Figure 1 and Table 1.
Figure 1. MPP Cases at End of January Transferred Out of MPP courts by End of March 2021
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Who Has Been Permitted to Enter the United States?
TRAC looked at the nationalities and hearing locations of the nearly 4,000 MPP cases that had been transferred away from MPP courts during the first two full months of the Biden administration. TRAC found that the hearing location where each case began influenced the characteristics of who had been permitted to enter the United States. This largely reflects the fact that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) planned a progressive roll-out of case processing by port of entry location along the Southwest border.
The total numbers of cases pending at the end of January, as well as the nationalities of those individuals, varied from court to court. MPP courts in El Paso and Brownsville had the most pending cases, with about 10,800 and 6,200 respectively, while the remaining courts had between 2,700 and 3,400. More than a quarter—1,719 total—of the MPP cases in Brownsville have transferred to a non-MPP court, while just three percent—or just over 100—of the MPP cases in Laredo have done so. Of the 3,911 MPP cases that have transferred since January, most—nearly 80 percent—of the cases have come from El Paso and Brownsville.
The percent of MPP cases that have transferred out of MPP courts varies by nationality. Cubans represented the largest number of MPP cases still at the border in January with nearly 7,600 cases or 29 percent of the total cases. By March, 1,218 cases involving Cubans—16 percent of all Cuban cases—had been transferred to a non-MPP court. Salvadorians, which just fewer than 2,000 cases had the highest percent, with more than one in four cases (or 26 percent) transferred. A principal reason for this was their tendency to be at the Brownsville port of entry where the processing had proceeded faster.
About 17 percent of Nicaraguan and Honduran cases were transferred, as well. Individuals from Ecuador and Brazil had particularly low percentages who had been processed and paroled into the U.S. during February and March. However, these two nationalities tended to be concentrated at the El Paso port of entry where few of any nationalities had been processed.
Table 2 below shows how the number and percentage of pending cases transferred out of MPP courts by the end of March varied by nationality. Table 3 shows how nationalities were originally concentrated among different MPP courts.
Asylum-Seekers Inside United States More Likely to Have an Attorney
Given the complexity of immigration law and the asylum process, immigration attorneys have been shown to play a central role in the process and outcome of asylum cases. TRAC previously found that asylum-seekers who obtain an attorney are five times more likely to be granted asylum. TRAC also found that very few asylum seekers in MPP were represented by an attorney.
Updated data through the end of March 2021 shows that the likelihood of asylum seekers being represented by an attorney increases after the person is paroled into the United States and increases the longer the person is in the United States. For this section, we include cases that were transferred to a non-MPP court prior to January for the purposes of illustrating how more time in the United States contributes to the likelihood of obtaining representation.
Of the nearly 3,000 individuals with cases in MPP who were paroled into the country on or before January 31, 43 percent of them showed a record of an attorney on file. For cases paroled in February and March, this number was lower at 21 percent, but still higher than the less than 10 percent of those still in Mexico who had an attorney.
Figure 2. Percent of Pending MPP Cases with Representation
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Although representation rates among MPP cases has been low, having an attorney in itself may have made it more likely for migrants to be aware of and to complete the required MPP registration process through the UNHCR's Conecta website. Only individuals who registered were considered for transfer. Moreover, the percent of these cases with representation may increase over time, between now and the time their cases are heard and decided. For comparison, 80 percent of the asylum cases of the nearly 60,000 cases decided in FY 2020 were represented by an attorney (see also TRAC's asylum decisions tool here).
Where Did MPP Cases Go?
A total of 63 different hearing locations across the country received MPP transferred cases. Florida proved to be the most popular location that the 3,911 MPP entrants transferred their cases to. Leading the list was Miami, Florida with 651, followed by Orlando, Florida with 321. The hearing location in Dallas, Texas received the third most transferred cases (201), following by Houston, Texas (S. Gessner) with 144. Arlington, Virginia was very close receiving 143 transfers and was in fifth place.
The other hearing locations in the top ten, in order of the transfers each received, was Los Angeles, California (139), Memphis, Tennessee (137), San Antonio, Texas (135), Newark, New Jersey (134), and Atlanta, Georgia (131). Table 4 provides a complete list of where individuals transferred their cases.
How TRAC Identified Cases for This Study
TRAC's MPP analysis identified cases that were initially assigned to one of the Immigration Courts designated as an MPP hearing location along the U.S.-Mexico border in the Executive Office for Immigration Review's (EOIR) internal court records. Once a case has been filed at an MPP court, TRAC is able to follow the life of the case over time. For this report, TRAC analyzed MPP cases that were pending at the end of January, matched them with case-by-case court records at the end of March, and then identified cases that had been transferred to a non-MPP court. Due to anticipated delays between the time that an asylum seeker is paroled into the United States and the time that the court case is reassigned (i.e. transferred) to a court near that person's final destination, this approach may not necessarily capture all cases where parole has been granted.
 EOIR also established a flag for MPP cases but this wasn't consistently used. As a cross-check, TRAC identified MPP cases if a case was identified either by this flag or assignment to a MPP hearing location.