Federal Appeals Court Allows Trump’s Return of Asylum-Seekers Policy to Proceed for Now

April 13, 2019 Updated: April 14, 2019

A federal appeals court has temporarily halted a lower court’s order to stop a Trump administration policy that forces asylum-seekers traveling north into the United States to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed.

A three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the lower court’s ruling from going into effect.

It has instead, set an April 16 deadline for civil liberties groups to submit arguments on why the asylum policy should be placed on hold. Meanwhile, the judges have set an April 17 deadline for the government to argue why the policy should remain.

The policy, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), was enacted in Jan. 24, as an attempt to curb the flow of meritless asylum claims and stop thousands of illegal immigrants from being released into the country—never to be seen again.

The MPP was first trialed in at the San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, but has expanded to the points of entry in Calexico, California, and El Paso, Texas, with plans to further extend it to other border crossings as well.

Department of Defence personnel install barriers requested by Custom and Border Protection
Department of Defense personnel install barriers requested by Custom and Border Protection at the San Ysidro port of entry, San Diego, on Nov. 13, 2018. (Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images)

On April 8, San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg ordered the policy to be suspended as of April 12 (pdf).

Seeborg, a former President Barack Obama appointee, said in his ruling that the MPP violates U.S. law by failing to evaluate dangers migrants face in Mexico—which attorneys for the civil liberties groups have argued.

They say the policy puts asylum-seekers’ lives at risk by forcing them to wait in Mexico, which is plagued with crimes and violence.

illegal aliens in El Paso
Hundreds of illegal immigrants are apprehended in Texas. Most are families and unaccompanied minors from Central America. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Meanwhile, the government has called the ruling erroneous, arguing that it endangers the public during a humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. It said that it wants the court to keep the policy in place while the lawsuit is litigated. The lawsuit is expected to take months and possibly years. The White House appealed the order on April 10 (pdf).

After the order was issued, immigration officials had stopped returning asylum-seekers to Mexico, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The Mexico government said that more than 1,300 migrants were returned to Mexico after the program took effect.

This federal court case, known as Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen, was initiated by 11 Central Americans and legal advocacy groups.

In response to the appeals court ruling, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on April 12, “Finally, great news at the Border!”

Migrant Protection Protocols

The MPP, which was overseen by former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, is an “unprecedented” move aimed at addressing the “humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border.”

“This humanitarian approach will help to end the exploitation of our generous immigration laws,” Kirstjen explained back in January when the policy first took effect.

Nielsen said this would allow DHS to more effectively assist legitimate asylum-seekers and individuals fleeing persecution, as migrants with non-meritorious or even fraudulent claims will no longer have an incentive for making the journey.

Unaccompanied minors are exempt from the policy. In October and November 2018, more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended by Border Patrol entering the United States illegally.

groups of illegal aliens
U.S. Border Patrol agents detained two large groups of illegal immigrants consisting of over 400 people within five minutes in the El Paso area on March 19, 2019. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
Undocumented immigrants just released from detention through "catch and release" immigration policy stand at a bus station before being taken to the Catholic Charities relief center in McAllen
Undocumented immigrants just released from detention through “catch and release” immigration policy stand at a bus station before being taken to the Catholic Charities relief center in McAllen, Texas, on April 11, 2018. (Reuters/Loren Elliott)

Moreover, the policy is also aimed to ease the overwhelmed Border Patrol facilities. In March, border patrol apprehended 92,000 illegal aliens along the southwest border—consisting of 53,000 family units, 30,000 single adults, and 8,900 unaccompanied children.

A further 11,000 presented at ports of entry without documentation and were deemed inadmissible, bringing the March total to 103,000.

“I have never witnessed the conditions we are facing on the southwest border. This is not a manufactured crisis,” said Rodolfo Karisch, chief Border Patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley sector, at a Senate hearing on April 9.

“On average, we apprehend 1,000 illegal border crossers per day—roughly the capacity of 17 commercial buses.”

Epoch Times Reporter Charlotte Cuthbertson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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