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Federal court blocks 'Remain in Mexico' immigration policy

Migrants are held for processing in El Paso, Texas last March. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday blocked President Donald Trump's Migrant Protection Protocols, which required  immigrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico. File Photo by Justin Hamel/UPI
Migrants are held for processing in El Paso, Texas last March. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday blocked President Donald Trump's Migrant Protection Protocols, which required  immigrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico. File Photo by Justin Hamel/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily halted the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy Friday.

The San Francisco-based court upheld a lower court injunction, stopping the Migrant Protection Protocols by which tens of thousands of asylum seekers remain in Mexico to await their U.S. hearings. The policy is an effort to limit access by migrants to U.S. soil and reduce a surge of migration by families from Central America. In 2019, more than 470,000 people crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in search of asylum, and most were allowed to remain in the United States to await court hearings.

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The administration of President Donald Trump credits the program, meant to prevent families from entering the United States and then forgoing hearings that could deport them, for the decline in border crossings from record highs in the summer of 2019. Families now await their hearings in Mexico.

The two-to-one ruling on Friday said the MPP "should be enjoined in its entirety," calling it "invalid in its entirety due to its inconsistency with" federal law. In a 70-page opinion, the judges -- Richard A. Paez and William Fletcher, appointed by President Bill Clinton, who upheld the injunction, and Ferdinand F. Fernandez, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, who disagreed -- said the program likely violates "non-refoulment" obligations under international law. Those laws prevent the U.S. government from returning immigrants to countries where they could face persecution.

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The Trump administration has reduced its reliance on the MPP program in recent months, instead relying on relatively quick deportation hearings, which transfer asylum seekers to Guatemala to seek asylum there. The number of those in Mexico awaiting hearings has declined.

The court also upheld an injunction Friday blocking any presidential proclamation disqualifying any immigrant illegally crossing the border to the United States.

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