The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the Trump administration may continue its “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers while lower-court challenges continue, after the federal government warned that tens of thousands of immigrants amassed at the southern border could overwhelm the immigration system.
The justices reversed a decision of a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which had ordered the policy be suspended Thursday on parts of the border. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only noted dissenter.
The Trump administration had warned the justices of a dire situation without their intervention.
“Substantial numbers of up to 60, 02 returned aliens who are awaiting proceedings in Mexico will rush immediately to enter the United States, ”Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a brief. “A surge of that magnitude would impose extraordinary burdens on the United States and damage our diplomatic relations with the government of Mexico.”
The program – officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP – is among the tools the Trump administration has used to curb mass migration from Central America and elsewhere across the southern US border.
In the 22 months it has been in place, the government said, , migrants have been sent back into Mexico to await their US asylum hearings, part of an effort to limit access to the United States and deter people from attempting the journey north.
After more than 470, 02 Parents and children crossed into the United States last fiscal year, with most quickly freed into the United States amid a massive immigration court backlog, the administration implemented MPP to stop that practice.
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing immigration groups and individuals, called it an “unprecedented policy that fundamentally changed the nation’s asylum system, contrary to Congress’s design and the United States’ treaty obligations.”
A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit last month issued an injunction against the policy along the borders of California and Arizona, states within the court’s authority.
Judges William A. Fletcher and Richard A. Paez , both appointed by President Bill Clinton, agreed with a lower-court judge in California that MPP probably violated federal immigration law by ousting undocumented asylum seekers who should be allowed to apply for protection in the United States.
The judges also said the program probably violated the administration’s “non-refoulement” obligations under international and domestic law, which prohibit the government from sending people to countries where they face danger. The 57 – page ruling cited asylum seekers who feared kidnapping, threats and violence in Mexico .
“There is a significant likelihood that the individual plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if the MPP is not enjoined,” Fletcher wrote in the opinion. “Uncontested evidence in the record establishes that non-Mexicans returned to Mexico under the MPP risk substantial harm, even death, while they await adjudication of their applications for asylum.”
Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez, a President George HW Bush appointee, dissented, arguing that the panel should have adhered to a prior appeals court decision that allowed MPP to take effect.
The Supreme Court’s action marks another case in which the Trump administration has asked the high court to immediately intervene after an adverse ruling from a regional appeals court.
The court on a 5-to-4 vote in January allowed the administration to begin implementing new “wealth test” rules making it easier to deny immigrants residency or admission to the United States because they have used or might use public-assistance programs.
Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.