Appeals Court Suspends Own Order After Halting Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ Asylum Policy

February 29, 2020 Updated: February 29, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

A federal appeals court has suspended an order that would block an immigration policy requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while a court processes their claims.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request on Friday from the Trump administration to pause its ruling from earlier in the day.

The panel ordered the government to file written arguments by the end of Monday, and ordered the plaintiffs to file their response by the end of Tuesday.

The pause will allow the government to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue. It also means that the immigration policy is allowed to proceed temporarily.

The appeals court ruled 2-1 earlier in the day to temporarily block the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a key policy under the Trump administration; the block—now suspended—was intended to remain in place while the case plays out in the courts.

The MPP, more commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, was enacted in January 2019 as an attempt to curb the flow of illegal immigration and prevent fraudulent or nonmeritorious cases. The policy sends migrants back to Mexico while they wait for a court to process their claims, rather than just being released directly into the United States to live for years until their court cases are complete.

The program has been a pivotal factor in the dramatic drop in illegal crossings over the past several months.

The majority ruled earlier on Friday that the MPP is “invalid in its entirety” because it was inconsistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), while adding that the challengers “have shown a likelihood of success on their claim that the MPP does not comply with our treaty-based” obligations to not force refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

The majority also ruled that the immigration policy is likely to cause “irreparable harm” to the challengers of the policy.

“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 William Fletcher, a Clinton appointee, wrote in the majority opinion (pdf).

Responding to the ruling that was issued earlier on Friday, the Justice Department said that at least 25,000 migrants sent back through the program are currently waiting in Mexico and that halting the immigration policy “could prompt a rush on the southern border” and would thereby pose “massive and irreparable national security and public safety concerns.”

“The Court’s reinstatement of the injunction causes the United States public and the government significant and irreparable harms—to border security, public safety, public health, and diplomatic relations,” Justice Department attorneys wrote.

Janita Kan, Reuters, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy