The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the Trump administration may continue to enforce its “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers as legal challenges play out on a directive that has forced nearly 60,000 migrants to await their U.S. cases in Mexico.
The decision reverses a ruling by the 9th Circuit of Appeals, which last week ordered that the policy formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, be suspended. But the appellate court in its decision also gave the Trump administration time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue.
Had the high court failed to step in Wednesday, the administration would have been blocked from implementing MPP, but only in California and Arizona, the two states in the 9th Circuit Court’s jurisdiction.
The Justice Department praised the Supreme Court's intervention, which it said prevents the lower court from "impairing the security of our borders and the integrity of our immigration system."
"The Migrant Protection Protocols, implemented pursuant to express authority granted by Congress decades ago, have been critical to restoring the government’s ability to manage the Southwest border and to work cooperatively with the Mexican government to address illegal immigration," the department said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the organizations that challenged MPP, issued a statement that said the "Court of Appeals unequivocally declared this policy to be illegal. The Supreme Court should as well. Asylum seekers face grave danger and irreversible harm every day this depraved policy remains in effect.”
In anticipation of MPP being lifted, the Trump administration last week dispatched 160 active duty troops to two southern ports of entry to “provide military police support, engineer, and aviation support” to Customs and Border Protection officers processing migrants. This came amid concern that ending MPP would prompt a flood of migrants to the southern border.
The Supreme Court’s action does not provide a final ruling on the merits of the program. Rather, it allows the policy to continue while the court decides whether to review the case.
The California-based appeals court initially ruled on Feb. 28 that MPP was “invalid in its entirety” because of its inconsistency with U.S. statutory law and “should be enjoined in its entirety.” The court also ruled the government was violating international legal obligations by sending migrants back to harm.
But the court hours later stayed that ruling. A week later, the appellate court affirmed the policy as unlawful but said the policy could remain in place while the government challenged the decision.
In various emergency briefs on behalf of the Trump administration, Solicitor General Noel Francisco has warned the Supreme Court of a potentially dangerous border situation without its intervention.
“Substantial numbers of up to 25,000 returned aliens who are awaiting proceedings in Mexico will rush immediately to enter the United States,” he wrote in one brief. “A surge of that magnitude would impose extraordinary burdens on the United States and damage our diplomatic relations with the government of Mexico.”
MPP is among the tools the Trump administration has used to curb mass migration from Central America and elsewhere across the southern U.S. border.
In the 13 months it has been in place, the government said nearly 60,000 migrants have been sent back into Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, part of an effort to limit access to United States and to deter people from attempting the journey north.
The administration implemented the program last year, after more than 470,000 migrants — including parents and children — crossed into the United States illegally, with most quickly freed amid a massive immigration court backlog.