A federal court on Friday upended a central pillar of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, ruling that asylum seekers must be allowed into the United States while their cases weave through American immigration courts.
A three-judge panel in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco blocked a policy that has required people applying for asylum at the border to wait in Mexico while their claims for protection are reviewed, a process that often takes months or years.
Since the new restrictions were rolled out early in 2019, more than 59,000 asylum seekers have been turned back by American authorities into Mexican border cities, where kidnappings and violence have surged. Because shelters in Mexico are scant and overrun, many of the migrants are living in vast tent encampments exposed to the elements. Powerful Mexican drug cartels have moved in to exploit them.
“It’s a resounding rejection,” said Judy Rabinovitz of the American Civil Liberties Union, who was the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs. She added, “The policy is a disgrace, it’s illegal, it’s morally indefensible, and it needs to stop.”
The policy the court reviewed is known formally as “migrant protection protocols” — though the lawyers who challenged it argued that it did just the opposite by placing vulnerable people in harm’s way. Instead of safeguarding people fleeing persecution abroad, as is required under federal law, the policy merely banished them to perilous conditions in a different place, the lawyers argued.
In their opinion on Friday, the judges said the policy is “invalid in its entirety” and concluded that a lower-court ruling that initially enjoined its implementation was “not an abuse of discretion.”
Often known as “Remain in Mexico,” the policy is part of a constellation of measures undertaken by the Trump administration to help stem the record number of migrant families, mainly from Central America, who began crossing the border in the fall of 2018.
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