The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the Trump administration to continue enforcing a policy that requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed in the US, another key legal victory for the White House and its efforts to restrict immigration at the southern border.
The high court voted to allow the Trump administration to implement the “Remain in Mexico” policy — formally known as the Migration Protection Protocols — as a legal challenge continues. A federal judge in San Francisco had blocked the policy last year and the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals was set to allow the injunction to go into effect in California and Arizona on Thursday.
“We are gratified that the Supreme Court granted a stay, which prevents a district court injunction from impairing the security of our borders and the integrity of our immigration system,” a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said.
The policy has sent roughly 60,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico as they await the outcome of their immigration proceedings in the US. The policy, which took effect in early 2019, has been a pillar of the Trump administration’s approach to not only restrict asylum access, but deter those seeking protection from coming to the border. In the meantime, immigrant advocates have reported cases of kidnapping, rape, torture, and other violent attacks against those forced to wait in Mexico.
“The Court of Appeals unequivocally declared this policy to be illegal. The Supreme Court should as well,” said Judy Rabinovitz, special counsel in the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, which is challenging the policy. “Asylum seekers face grave danger and irreversible harm every day this depraved policy remains in effect.”
US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges William Fletcher and Richard Paez in California had ruled in late February to affirm a 2019 preliminary injunction blocking the policy. But the Trump administration requested and received time to go to the Supreme Court for a stay of that order. The 9th Circuit judges said the policy clearly violated the law and ordered the policy blocked in California and Arizona.
“Uncontradicted evidence also shows that there is extreme danger to asylum seekers who are returned to Mexico,” the judges wrote.
Luis Enrique Castillo / AP
A family from Guatemala, who are applying for asylum in the US, stand for a family portrait before going to a soup kitchen to eat in Nogales, Mexico, on Jan. 3, 2020.
The decision to implement the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) in early 2019 came amid a surge of families crossing the border and claiming asylum. In the early days of the policy, the administration was seeing upward of 100,000 border crossings a month. In recent months, those numbers have dropped precipitously.
Late last year, BuzzFeed News obtained a draft report from a team of senior Department of Homeland Security officials who examined the policy and found that US border officials apparently pressured United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials to deny immigrants entry. The “Red Team” recommendations call on agencies within DHS, including Customs and Border Protection, to provide immigration court hearing notices in multiple languages, improve language access for immigrants, and ensure that they understand the “questions asked and can make informed decisions.”
They also recommended that procedures for screening vulnerable populations, like children and people with disabilities, be standardized, and that the role of CBP officers in the process is clarified.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU claimed that the statute could not be used against asylum-seekers and that it violates legal protections that prohibit the removal of individuals to a country where they would face persecution.
“It is not a matter of debate whether migrants in the Orwellian named MPP are suffering grave harm, including persecution and torture. They are,” one asylum officer told BuzzFeed News Wednesday on the condition of anonymity. “It’s been documented and I’ve heard it firsthand. Our asylum system is increasingly a sham.”
In September, CBP’s acting commissioner, Mark Morgan, told reporters that one of the most significant things MPP was doing was “telling the cartels and this vulnerable population the game has changed.”
“If you come here, even with a kid — it used to be, you come here with a kid, that was your passport into the United States,” he said. “MPP is saying, ‘That’s done. That’s a lie now.’ So don’t mortgage your home. Don’t pay the cartels. Don’t risk your life. Don’t risk the life of your family.”