It’s the latest indication of tensions between the administration and its allies boiling over, with sources describing the hour-long call as emotionally charged and frustrating.
“There’s no trust,” one source on the call told CNN, adding that immigrant advocacy groups are tired of having to react to Trump policies that remain in effect.
Another source on the call said participants held back tears as they laid into the government and described their own experiences with the policy under the Trump administration, including helping those who were sexually assaulted or kidnapped while waiting in Mexico.
A federal judge in Texas ordered the Biden administration to bring back the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy that requires migrants stay in Mexico until their US immigration court date. While Biden officials have said they disagree with the policy, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, and sought to end it earlier this year, it’s done little to quell concerns.
Asked about the controversial policy by reporters on Air Force One on Friday, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We have to comply in good faith and take steps to reinstate this court-ordered MPP (Migrant Protection Protocols). And we will be doing just that. DHS has appealed that injunction and announced that it intends to issue a second memorandum terminating MPP that intends to address the concerns raised by the courts. The Biden administration will follow the law and abide by the court’s order to restart the court-ordered MPP.”
CNN asked the White House about the contentious phone call and was referred to Jean-Pierre’s comments.
Taylor Levy, an immigration attorney who worked with thousands of people subject to the policy, said simply: “All my optimism about this administration is utterly shattered.” Levy shared anecdotes of migrant parents who had thrust their children in her arms in hopes she might be able to bring them to the US because of the risk of being in some of Mexico’s northern cities waiting for court dates.
“I’m still in a state of shock and despair,” she said.
The Biden administration is also using a public health authority, known as Title 42, that was implemented under former President Donald Trump to rapidly expel migrants encountered at the US southern border.
That authority has been a point of contention between the Biden administration and advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers. By the end of the year, the Biden administration may be using both that authority and the “Remain in Mexico” policy — two controversial Trump-era border policies.
“Goodwill is eroding quickly,” another source on the call said.
The administration has been facing harsh criticism over its treatment of migrants at the US-Mexico border. Last month, for example, when thousands of migrants, primarily Haitians, amassed under the Del Rio International Bridge, officials leaned on the public health authority to expel more than 7,000 Haitians back to Haiti, a country rattled by political instability and a major earthquake.
Immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers urged the administration to stop sending Haitian migrants to a country grappling with a humanitarian crisis, but expulsions continued. The decision also stirred internal tensions, with two officials departing their roles over policy disagreements.
During that time, the Department of Homeland Security similarly came under scrutiny for the actions of Border Patrol agents on horse patrol after images surfaced showing an aggressive confrontation with migrants. The department launched an investigation into the incident.
But concerns over the handling of migrants at the US-Mexico border aren’t only domestic.
Over the summer when the Department of Homeland Security, in collaboration with Mexico, sent Guatemalans encountered at the US-Mexico border to the interior of Mexico, dropping them in a desolate area with no recourse. That decision — intended to stop repeat crossers — didn’t sit well with Guatemala, a key US partner in trying to address the root causes of migration in Central America.
“It doesn’t correlate with this rhetorical, more humane approach to migration when they’re sending the deportees to a very remote area in the middle of the jungle where there’s no infrastructure to receive them,” a senior Guatemalan official told CNN.
Guatemalan officials took it up with Vice President Kamala Harris’ office and others within the administration in August, the official said. While it’s unclear whether the vice president intervened, the Department of Homeland Security is now largely sending flights directly to Guatemala City.