Judge Blocks Trump Policy of Returning Asylum Seekers to Mexico

Central American migrants surrender to U.S. Border Patrol Agents south of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas, March 6, 2019. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

A federal judge on Monday blocked the Trump administration’s policy of returning Central American asylum seekers to Mexico until their cases are processed.

Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco delayed the enforcement of his ruling thwarting the hardline immigration policy until Friday in order to give administration officials time to appeal it.

The policy of requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their applications to progress was implemented in January at the crowded San Ysidro U.S. port of entry in California. It was a marked shift from previous U.S. policy for families seeking asylum, which was to release them into the U.S. with a notice to appear in court at a later date.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil liberties groups as well as 11 Central American migrants who are seeking asylum. The plaintiffs accused the Department of Homeland Security of unfairly obfuscating the asylum application process. The lawsuit also objects that the policy, the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” place asylum seekers in mortal danger.

“Instead of being able to focus on preparing their cases, asylum seekers forced to return to Mexico will have to focus on trying to survive,” the lawsuit states. “These pressures may deter even those with the strongest asylum claims to give up, rather than endure the wait under such conditions.”

When the ruling takes effect, the 11 migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras must be allowed into the U.S. within two days. The judge also issued a preliminary injunction blocking any future administration attempts to return asylum seekers to Mexico.

The administration argues the policy is a “humanitarian approach” meant to “address the urgent humanitarian and security crisis at the Southern border.”

The U.S. government currently has a backlog of over 800,000 immigration cases.

The decision comes hours after Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen resigned her position, citing outside impediments to its mission that the department had faced under her leadership.

“I hope that the next Secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse,” Nielsen said in her resignation letter to Trump. “Our country and the men and women of DHS deserve to have all the tools and resources they need to execute the mission entrusted to them.”

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