Muslim nations that refuse to recognize Kosovo are making a big mistake, says PM Albin Kurti

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Updated 17 February 2022

Muslim nations that refuse to recognize Kosovo are making a big mistake, says PM Albin Kurti

Prime Minister Albin Kurti, seen here in his Pristina office, says Kosovo’s youthful Muslim population makes it a natural ally of countries in the Gulf, most notably Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo/Ziad Alarfaj)
  • ‘Russia-Ukraine escalation might make Serbia more aggressive but we are not afraid’
  • NATO and America are here to stay, and we will be victorious in any future conflict

PRISTINA: Fourteen years ago, the Republic of Kosovo declared its independence and became the world’s newest country. Backed by its main ally, the US, and protected by a UN-mandated NATO presence, Kosovo enters its 15th year of independence facing several challenges — and some clear and present dangers, too.

Despite the backing of some of the world’s biggest and most influential states, Kosovo is still not part of the UN and is recognized by fewer than 100 of the 193 UN member states. Even though it is located in the heart of Europe, and enjoys huge support from the EU, it is still not a member of the union and Kosovars do not enjoy visa-free travel across the continent.

The main cause of most of Kosovo’s pains is the deep-rooted historic rift with its northern neighbor, Serbia. Both countries were part of the former Yugoslavia and, following its break-up, endured a bloody decade of fighting in the Balkans during the 1990s.

Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo or apologize for the atrocities of the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, which only ended after NATO intervened. The current standoff and mutual non-recognition prevent both countries from joining the EU, five members of which still do not officially recognize Kosovo.

Previous Kosovar leaders attempted to engage in dialogue with Serbia. However, since assuming office in March 2021, Prime Minister Albin Kurti has signaled repeatedly that talks with Belgrade are not a priority.

Kosovo Factfile

* ‘Kosovo’ means ‘field of blackbirds’ in Serbian.

* Has a population of 1.87 million.

* Declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008.

* More than 40% of the population is under 25 years old.

* Occupies an area of 10, 887 square kilometers.

* Main languages are Albanian and Serbian.

* Majority of the population is Muslim.

“We did not want to neglect dialogue with Serbia but I cannot have it as priority number one,” he told Arab News during an exclusive interview at his office in Pristina. “I said, from the outset of this government, that jobs, justice and the COVID-19 pandemic are our top three priorities. Number four could be the dialogue.

“This dialogue, which we are approaching in a constructive and creative manner with different proposals, is a dialogue about the status of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo and Serbia do not recognize each other, so the solution is mutual recognition.”

There are other elements that further complicate the possibility of a normalization of relations between the countries and their mutual accession to the EU.

READ MORE

As Kosovo celebrates its 14th independence day, Europe’s newest country — and one with the continent’s youngest population — has much to be proud of. Read more here.

To start with, there are the dark shadows of the past. A few months after he was elected prime minister, Kurti spoke about the possibility of reviving plans to sue Serbia for genocide in an international court, and rejected some Western calls for Kosovo’s minority Serb population to be allowed to vote in a Serbian referendum that Pristina considers “unconstitutional.”

Another issue is that officials in Kosovo accuse their Serbian counterparts of being much more interested in being in the orbit of Russia rather than Europe.

“Serbia has close cultural, historical and military links with Moscow,” said Kurti. Asked how this close relationship between Belgrade and Moscow might affect his country if war breaks out between Russia and Ukraine, Kurti said it might push Serbia to become “more aggressive.” But while he said that Pristina is “following the situation very carefully,” he added: “We are not afraid.”

Nevertheless, some critics of recent US foreign-policy decisions believe Kosovo has a number of reasons to be concerned, given that in recent years neither Washington nor NATO have proven to be very good friends to many of their traditional allies in times of need.

I think the people of Kosovo, but also people in the Balkans and in Europe, should know more about the reforms and the progress in Saudi Arabia. We want to strengthen cooperation with the Kingdom.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti

Former US President Barack Obama’s so-called “red lines” did little to deter Russia from seizing control of Crimea in 2014. More recently, as part of the Biden administration’s pivot toward ending “forever wars,” the world watched the painful scenes at Kabul Airport as many Afghans desperately trying to flee the country after Washington effectively handed the country back to the Taliban, 20 years after it waged a war to bring democracy to the country and end the rule of the same extremist group.

However, Kurti strongly believes that the NATO presence in Kosovo is there to stay but that if push comes to shove, Kosovars are capable of defending themselves.

“I think that Kosovo has great people with great will and courage, on one hand, and on the other hand, I think that our defense and security forces and NATO, especially the US, are here to stay,” he said.

“And we are certain that we will be victorious in any kind of future crisis that might occur, but which we do not want to have.”

Kurti is so confident of NATO’s commitment to his country that he believes it is likely Kosovo will join the alliance as a full member much sooner than it is granted EU membership status.

“I believe that this is the case for two reasons,” he said. “Firstly, in the EU we have five non-recognizers out of 27, whereas in NATO we have four non-recognizers out of 30. So, one non-recognizer less in NATO than in EU.

“But in addition, the criteria and standards that you have to fulfill to join NATO are not as complex as they are for joining the EU. So, it is realistic to expect that we will first join NATO and then EU.”

In addition, NATO does not require its members to be member states of the UN or the EU, so provided that Pristina can convince Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia to recognize it, the prime minister’s vision might become a reality in the next few years, observers argue.

Relations with the Muslim world

The members of the EU that do not recognize Kosovo might argue that they have taken this position to avoid encouraging separatist movements within their countries. What is perhaps more remarkable is that fact that as things stands, only slightly over half of the members of Organization of Islamic Cooperation recognize Kosovo, which is a Muslim-majority country. Leading the way among the Gulf recognizers are moderate Muslim countries, such as regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

How does Kurti feel about the fact that so many fellow Muslim states do not recognize his country, particularly a major Islamic nation such as Iran?

“We think that it’s a big mistake that some of the countries with Muslim-majority populations are not recognizing Kosovo,” he said. “I think that they have been misinformed by Serbia. And some of them do this because they keep some close links with the Russian Federation.

“However, I would urge all the countries in the world, for the sake of long-term peace, sustainable security and recognizing the rights of people to freedom and self-determination, to recognize the independence of Kosovo.

“In a way, those who do not recognize the independence of Kosovo, with or without intention, they fall prey to supporting Serbia from the time of the militias that committed genocide in Kosovo.”

A particularly paradoxical twist in this tale is the non-recognition of Kosovo by the Palestinian Authority. One might think that the official representatives of a people who have for seven decades protested and fought against the illegal occupation by Israel would be among the first to stand in solidarity with Kosovo.

Yet the PA does not recognize Kosovo and its former leader, Yasser Arafat, was criticized for his close ties with former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic at the turn of the century.

Meanwhile, although Israel and Kosovo only formally recognized each other a little over a year ago Tel Aviv’s policy towards Kosovo has long been non-aggressive. Even before the formal recognition, which had been lobbied for by the administration of former US President Donald Trump, Israel supported Kosovo’s campaigns to gain membership of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.




Kurti, seen here in his Pristina office being interviewed by Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, said Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE are ‘terrorism actions.’ (AN Photo/Ziad Alarfaj)

Even so, Kosovo’s announcement last year of its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel shocked many Muslim countries, given the sensitivity of the issue in the Muslim world.

All of this begs the question of what the current stance in Pristina is on the Palestinian cause and the PA.

“I think that, just as we know how much the Palestinian people have suffered, they should not neglect the suffering of the Albanians in Kosovo, who survived Serbia’s genocide,” said Kurti.

He denies, however, that the Trump-era decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was in any way a form of retaliation against the official Palestinian position of non-recognition of Kosovo.

“That has nothing to do with our stance toward the Palestinian people and their cause,” he said. “We want to have good relations with Palestine, with the Palestinian Authority and with Palestinians as people.”

Last year, Kosovo joined several Arab and Muslim states in designating the Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah as a terrorist group. When asked about the background to that decision, Kurti said it is “not difficult to recognize terrorists and violent extremists.”

He added: “In line with our beliefs and values, on which we are building our country and on which we are orienting future generations, we made such a decision in Kosovo, and we are part of the global coalition against violent extremism and terrorists.

“We also condemned all the attacks and activities of Hezbollah, and also of Daesh.”

Kurti also said he was appalled by the recent attack by the Houthis in Yemen on Abu Dhabi airport and their ongoing strikes against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, adding that such acts can never be tolerated.

Does this mean that he agrees that the Houthis should be designated as a terrorist group?

“Yes, I think all these attacks on civilians are terrorist actions,” he said.

Kosovo, as well as Bosnia, has had its own issues with home-grown terror; a number of its citizens lest the country to join Daesh a few years ago. Kurti said there is no place in his country for tolerance of extremist ideology.

“There were a couple of hundred people from Kosovo who unfortunately joined these absolute wars,” he said. “Some of them never came back and for those who did come back, we have done some rehabilitation programs. Some are also serving sentences in prison.

“There had been some manipulation of certain individuals. I can imagine that was due to their lack of educational background, and perhaps unemployment and social misery, and we have to have a certain sensitivity toward the situation. However, this will never stop us from harshly condemning violent extremism.”

‘Kurtinomics’ and Saudi Vision 2030

At the start of our interview, Kurti congratulated the Saudi leadership and people on the occasion of the newly announced annual “Founding Day,” which will be celebrated in the Kingdom on Feb. 22 each year. Throughout our discussion, he appeared up to speed on the most recent developments in Saudi Arabia.

“I think the people of Kosovo, but also people in the Balkans and in Europe, should know more about the reforms and the progress in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We want to strengthen cooperation with the Kingdom. It’s a very rich country, both in its culture and history, but likewise in its natural resources and economic development.”

The reforms Kurti referred to are those that are taking place under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan. It includes the diversification of the economy to reduce its dependence on oil; the creation of jobs for Saudi youths, who form the majority of the population; the introduction of previously unimaginable social freedoms and religious reforms; and a relentless crackdown on corruption.

Meanwhile, Kurti and his party triumphed at the election in Kosovo last year based on a “jobs and justice” campaign that focused on the creation of opportunities for young people and women, and a promise to tackle corruption.

It is not enough not to be corrupted; you should also be incorruptible. And I think that our government is a cabinet of ministers who are well-educated, good professionals — people who do not want to get rich from politics.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti

He sees the similarities in the recent developments in the two countries and an opportunity for them to enhance cooperation. To this end, he invited Riyadh to seize the opportunities and invest heavily in the emerging environment in Kosovo.

“With our government we are fighting corruption,” he said. “There is no tolerance for corruption. And we are also growing our economy. For example, last year we registered two-thirds higher exports than the year before. Budget revenues increased by one third.

“Likewise, business turnover increased, while foreign direct investment increased by more than 50 percent. These figures show that Kosovo is progressing — and the best way for more progress is to invest in the already existing progress.”

But how exactly does his brand of “Kurtinomics” work? He said his reforms are all about giving people hope and a reason to believe in them.

READ MORE

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti condemned the continuing series of Houthi attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, and more recently the UAE, agreeing that such assaults reveal the Houthis to be a terrorist group. Read more here.

“When people are hopeful, they would rather spend than save in our economy if it is growing,” said Kurti. “Because when you expect rainy days in the future, you’d rather save than spend. Then when people see the government is not corrupt, they are more ready to pay taxes and other contributions. That’s why budget revenues in Kosovo, tax revenues, increased by a third without changing fiscal policy.

“And the last thing is that tax administration started to have greater discipline than before. Fighting corruption and crime helps not only the common values of the people but also the health of the economy. On the other hand, our diaspora, which is huge and especially concentrated in German-speaking Europe, sent even more remittances back home than before.

“We have also established a commercial court and in this way we want to create a good environment for business. Kosovo has the euro as a currency and a very young population; the average age is 30 years, even though we are an ancient people. We are located at the heart of the Balkans, close to European markets. And at the same time, Kosovo is a country that never forgets its friends and wants to have good relations with all peace-loving nations in the world.”

Regarding the fight against corruption, Kurti admitted his government has a mountain to climb. “Corruption in Kosovo was high in the past and has not been eradicated altogether,” he said. “But it was quite concentrated at the top, so there was no trickle-down effect. Corruption was concentrated at the top and now we stopped it, precisely, at the top, with the change of government through democratic elections. This is the first point.

“The second point is that it is not enough not to be corrupted; you should also be incorruptible. And I think that our government is a cabinet of ministers who are well-educated, good professionals — people who do not want to get rich from politics.

“We say to all our friends and activists: Whoever likes to get very rich, try your luck and skills in the private sector. In public service of state institutions, you are supposed to serve. So, serving is our vocation, to the best of our abilities and knowledge.”

Looking to the future and the opportunities that lie ahead for Kosovo, Kurti highlights the potential of the information and communications technology sector, wood and metal processing, agriculture and renewable energy. He added that in his role as prime minister he looks forward to actively engaging in promoting these sectors.


North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19

North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19
Updated 56 min 24 sec ago

North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19

North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19
  • In what it called “an emergency instruction,” the epidemic prevention center ordered officials to “to vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons” along the border

SEOUL: North Korea suggested Friday its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with balloons flown from South Korea — a highly questionable claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival responsible amid increasing tensions.
Activists for years have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and North Korea has often expressed fury at the activists and at South Korea’s leadership for not stopping them.
Global health authorities say the coronavirus is spread by people in close contact who inhale airborne droplets and it’s more likely to occur in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces than outdoors. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said there was no chance South Korean balloons might have spread the virus to North Korea.
Ties between the Koreas remain strained amid a long-running stalemate in US-led diplomacy on persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for economic and political benefits.
The state media report said North Korea’s epidemic prevention center had found infection clusters in the town of Ipho near the southeastern border and that some Ipho residents with feverish symptoms traveled to Pyongyang. The center said an 18-year-old soldier and a 5-year kindergartener had contact with “alien things” in the town in early April and later tested positive for the omicron variant.
In what it called “an emergency instruction,” the epidemic prevention center ordered officials to “to vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons” along the border and trace their sources to the last. It also stressed that anyone finding “alien things” must notify authorities immediately so they could be removed.
The reports did not specify what the “alien things” were. But laying the blame on things flown across the border likely is a way to repeat its objections to the ballooning activities of North Korean defectors and activists in South Korea.
Leafletting campaigns were largely halted after South Korea’s previous liberal government passed a law criminalizing them, and there were no public balloon attempts made in early April.
An activist who is standing trial for past activities flew balloons carrying propaganda leaflets across the border in late April after halting them for a year. Park Sang-hak floated balloons twice in June, switching the cargo on those attempts to COVID-19 relief items such as masks and painkillers.
Police are still investigating the recent leafleting activities by the activist, Cha Duck Chul, a deputy spokesperson at the South’s Unification Ministry, told reporters Friday.
Cha also said the consensus among South Korean health officials and World Health Organization experts is that infections via contact with the virus on the surface of materials is virtually impossible.
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at South Korea’s Sejong Institute said North Korea wants its people to believe the coronavirus originated from leaflets, US dollars or other materials carried across the border by the balloons.
Cheong said North Korea will likely sternly punish anyone taking such South Korean items covertly. He said North Korea could also try to shoot down incoming South Korean balloons, a move that would prompt South Korea to return fire and would sharply escalate animosities between the countries.
North Korea is infuriated by the leafletting campaign because it’s designed to undermine Kim’s authoritarian rule over a population that has little access to outside information. In 2014, North Korea fired at propaganda balloons flying toward its territory and South Korea returned fire, though there were no casualties.
Laying blame on objects flown across the inter-Korean border contradicts the outside view that the virus spread after North Korea briefly reopened its northern border with China to freight traffic in January and it surged further following a military parade and other events in Pyongyang in April.
After maintaining a widely disputed claim to be coronavirus-free for more than two years, North Korea on May 12 admitted to the COVID-19 outbreak, saying an unspecified number of people in Pyongyang tested positive for the omicron variant.
North Korea has since reported about 4.7 million fever cases out of its 26 million population but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. It says 73 people have died, an extremely low fatality rate. Both figures are believed to be manipulated by North Korea to keep its people vigilant against the virus and prevent any political damage to Kim.


China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department

China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department
Updated 01 July 2022

China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department

China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department
  • While saying it has not provided military assistance to Russia, China vowed to take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies

WASHINGTON: The United States has not seen China evade sanctions or provide military equipment to Russia, a senior US official said on Thursday, adding that enforcement measures taken earlier in the week targeted certain Chinese companies, not the government.
The Commerce Department added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base as Moscow carries out its war in Ukraine.
US officials have warned of consequences, including sanctions, should China offer material support for Russia’s war effort, but have consistently said they have yet to detect overt Chinese military and economic backing of Moscow.
“China is not providing material support. This is normal course-of-business enforcement action against entities that have been backfilling for Russia,” a senior Biden administration official told Reuters, referring to the Commerce blacklist.
“We have not seen the PRC (People’s Republic of China) engage in systematic evasion or provide military equipment to Russia,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions and has criticized the sweeping Western sanctions on Moscow. Beijing also says that it has not provided military assistance to Russia or Ukraine, but that it would take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies.
The Commerce Department action means US suppliers need a license before they can ship items to listed companies. But the department also targeted dozens of other entities, including some in allied countries, such as the United Kingdom and Lithuania. 

 

 


Russian missile strike kills at least 17 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials

Russian missile strike kills at least 17 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials
Updated 01 July 2022

Russian missile strike kills at least 17 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials

Russian missile strike kills at least 17 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials
  • Three people, including a child, were killed and one wounded in the recreation center strike

Seventeen people were killed Friday in missile strikes on an apartment building and recreation center in southern Ukraine’s Odessa region, authorities said.
Fourteen were killed and 30 wounded in the strike on a nine-story apartment block, the emergency services said on Telegram.
Seven people were rescued from the rubble of the building, including three children, they said.
Three people, including a child, were killed and one wounded in the recreation center strike, the officials said.
Odessa military administration spokesman Sergiy Bratchuk said the missiles were fired by aircraft that flew in from the Black Sea.
The strikes took place in the Bilgorod-Dnistrovsky district.
They came days after a Russian strike destroyed a shopping center in Kremenchuk, in central Ukraine, killing at least 18 civilians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied Moscow’s forces were responsible.
The southern region of Odessa is a strategic flashpoint, as it is home to Ukraine’s historic port city of the same name.
On Thursday, Russian troops abandoned their positions on Snake Island, off the coast of Odessa, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war.


New Zealand designates 2 US far-right groups as terrorist organizations

New Zealand designates 2 US far-right groups as terrorist organizations
Updated 01 July 2022

New Zealand designates 2 US far-right groups as terrorist organizations

New Zealand designates 2 US far-right groups as terrorist organizations
  • The Proud Boys were last year named a terrorist group in Canada, while The Base has previously been declared a terrorist group in Britain, Canada and Australia

WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s government has declared that American far-right groups the Proud Boys and The Base are terrorist organizations.
The two groups join 18 others including the Daesh group that have been given an official terrorist designation, making it illegal in New Zealand to fund, recruit or participate in the groups, and obligating authorities to take action against them.
The US groups are not known to be active in New Zealand, although the South Pacific nation has become more attuned to threats from the far right after a white supremacist shot and killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in 2019.
The New Zealand massacre inspired other white supremacists around the world, including a white gunman who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May.
In the US, the State Department only lists foreign groups as terrorist entities. But the Proud Boys were last year named a terrorist group in Canada, while The Base has previously been declared a terrorist group in Britain, Canada and Australia.
In a 29-page explanation of the Proud Boys designation published Thursday, New Zealand authorities said the group’s involvement in the violent attack on the US Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 amounted to an act of terrorism.

Proud Boys gather in front of the Oregon state capitol on Jan. 8, 2022 during a protest in support of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. (Getty Images via AFP)

The statement said that while several militia groups were involved, it was the Proud Boys who incited crowds, coordinated attacks on law enforcement officers and led other rioters to where they could break into the building.
The statement said there are unlinked but ideologically affiliated chapters of the Proud Boys operating in Canada and Australia.
New Zealand authorities argued that before the Capitol attack, the Proud Boys had a history of using street rallies and social media to intimidate opponents and recruit young men through demonstrations of violence. It said the group had put up various smoke screens to hide its extremism.
Earlier this month, the former leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, and four others linked to the group were charged in the US with seditious conspiracy for what federal prosecutors say was a coordinated attack on the Capitol.
The indictment alleges that the Proud Boys conspired to forcibly oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power. The five are scheduled to stand trial in August in Washington, D.C.’s federal court.
Asked by media Thursday in New Zealand if the Proud Boys weren’t better known for protest actions rather than extreme violence, New Zealand Police Minister Chris Hipkins said: “Well, violent protests attempting to overthrow the government, clearly there is evidence of that.”
In making its case against The Base, New Zealand authorities said a key goal of the group was to “train a cadre of extremists capable of accelerationist violence.”
The statement said founder Rinaldo Nazzaro “has repetitively counselled members online about violence, the acquisition of weapons, and actions to accelerate the collapse of the US government and survive the consequent period of chaos and violence.”


US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy
Updated 30 June 2022

US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

US Supreme Court backs Biden bid to end Trump ‘remain in Mexico’ policy
  • Supreme Court overturns decision requiring Biden to restart Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states sued to maintain the program

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Thursday gave a major boost to President Joe Biden’s drive to end a hard-line immigration policy begun under his predecessor Donald Trump that forced tens of thousands of migrants to stay in Mexico to await US hearings on their asylum claims.
The justices, in a 5-4 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, overturned a lower court’s decision requiring Biden to restart Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states of Texas and Missouri sued to maintain the program.
The ruling bolsters Biden as he pursues what he calls a more “humane” approach at the southern border even as Republicans blame him for what they portray as an immigration crisis.
The justices concluded that the New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals erred in finding that federal immigration law required sending migrants back to Mexico so long as there was not enough space to detain them in the United States.
“The problem is that the statute does not say anything like that,” Roberts wrote, adding that the 5th Circuit’s decision also mistakenly imposed a “significant burden” upon the US government’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico.
Trump’s administration adopted the policy, formally called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” in 2018 in response to an increase in migration along the US-Mexican border, changing longstanding US practice. It prevented certain non-Mexican migrants, including asylum seekers fearing persecution in their home countries, from being released into the United States to await immigration proceedings, instead returning them to Mexico.
Biden’s fellow Democrats and immigration advocates have criticized Trump’s policy, saying migrants stuck in Mexican border cities have faced kidnappings and other hazards.
Roberts was joined by fellow conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the three liberal justices in the ruling. In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito — joined by fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — said Congress never meant for the government to release immigrants and simply hope they “will show up for the hearing.”
The ruling also faulted the 5th Circuit for voiding the administration’s June 2021 decision to end Trump’s program. The 5th Circuit found that Biden’s administration had failed to properly explain its rescinding of Trump’s policy in violation of federal administrative law. But the Supreme Court found that the June 2021 decision was superseded by a new, more detailed one issued by the administration four months later.
Biden suspended the “remain in Mexico” policy in January 2021 shortly after taking office and acted to rescind it five months later. Roughly 68,000 people fell under the policy from the time it took effect in 2019 until Biden suspended it.
At issue in the case was the meaning of a provision of a 1996 US immigration law that stated that US officials “may return” certain immigrants to Mexican territory pending immigration proceedings. Texas and Missouri have said this provision must be used because the United States lacks detention space for migrants. Biden’s administration said the provision was clearly discretionary.
For migrants not posing a security risk, immigration law separately allows their release into the United States for humanitarian reasons or “significant public benefit” pending a hearing, a practice officials have followed for decades.
Kavanaugh, in a concurring opinion, said that every president since the late 1990s has allowed immigrants into the United States to await their proceedings.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, criticized the ruling, saying it “will only embolden the Biden administration’s open border policies.”
Immigrant rights groups called the ruling a victory.
“The US for generations has been a refuge for those fleeing danger and persecution,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, urging Biden’s administration to “move swiftly to permanently end every facet of the human rights disaster that is ‘remain in Mexico.’“
The number of migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border has reached record highs recently. Republicans contend that the “remain in Mexico” policy effectively deterred unlawful migration.
After a judge ruled in favor of Texas and Missouri, reinstating the program, the Supreme Court last August refused the Biden administration’s request to block that decision while it appealed. The 5th Circuit ruled in December that because the government lacks the capacity to detain all migrants eligible for admission pending a hearing, it must maintain “remain in Mexico.”
Thursday’s decision came on the final day of rulings for the court’s current nine-month term.