The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the Trump administration can continue enforcing a policy that requires asylum applicants to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings.
The order overturns a lower court decision that would have blocked the policy, at least for people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and California.
The high court action came a day before the lower court order was to have taken effect. Instead, the Remain in Mexico policy—known formally as Migrant Protection Protocols—will remain in force while a lawsuit challenging it plays out in the courts.
The liberal-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that the policy may be illegal under U.S. law preventing the sending of people to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or membership in a particular social group.
Shortly after the 9th Circuit ruling, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to allow the government to continue to enforce the policy.
About 60,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait for their cases to wind through clogged immigration courts since the policy was introduced in January 2019 in San Diego and later expanded across the border. The policy aims to end loopholes in the current “catch and release” policy, under which asylum-seekers are released into the interior of the country as they await a court hearing, often never to be seen again.
“Important SCOTUS victory for securing the border. The ‘remain in Mexico’ policy agreement w/ Mexican [government] has had a major impact reducing illegal border crossings—especially critical as we work to contain spread of the Coronavirus pandemic,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote on Twitter.
“The Court of Appeals unequivocally declared this policy to be illegal. The Supreme Court should as well,” said Judy Rabinovitz, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents asylum-seekers and immigrant advocacy groups in the case.
The Justice Department said the high court’s order restores “the government’s ability to manage the Southwest border and to work cooperatively with the Mexican government to address illegal immigration.”
“Illegal border crossings in Arizona plunged by a staggering 90 percent year-over-year following implementation of the new ‘Remain In Mexico’ policy,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) wrote on Twitter.
Human Rights First, an advocacy group that opposes the policy, said it found more than 1,000 public reports of kidnappings, torture, rape, and assaults of asylum-seekers returned to Mexico.
The administration said in court papers that more than 36,000 of the 60,000 cases had been resolved in immigration courts. Asylum has been granted in less than 1 percent of the cases that have been decided.
The administration had argued that thousands of migrants would rush the border if the high court didn’t step in.
Janita Kan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.