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A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the Trump administration can return asylum seekers to Mexico while they await immigration court hearings.
The decision reversed a previous injunction that would’ve kept asylum seekers from being sent to Mexico during the ongoing legal challenge to the policy, which is called the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP). The case could ultimately end up before the Supreme Court. The decision on Tuesday — made by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — could allow the Trump administration to potentially expand the policy beyond its current enforcement in cities in Texas and California.
Mexican immigration officials said that, through May 1, 3,267 Central American migrants has been sent to Mexico under the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy. Advocacy groups have argued that migrants could face dangerous conditions when they’re sent to wait in Mexico.
“Asylum seekers are being put at serious risk of harm every day that the forced return policy continues,” Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in response to Tuesday’s decision. “Notably, two of the three judges that heard this request found that there are serious legal problems with what the government is doing, so there is good reason to believe that ultimately this policy will be put to a halt.”
A district judge previously ruled in April that the “Remain in Mexico” policy didn’t have the proper safeguards to ensure asylum seekers weren’t sent to “places where they face undue risk to their lives or freedom,” but delayed implementing the injunction to give the government time to appeal.
In the decision on Tuesday, the judges — two of whom were seemingly critical of the Trump administration's policy — wrote the injunction was “unlikely to be sustained” on appeal in its current form, while also noting fears for migrants’ safety were eased somewhat by the Mexican government.
“The plaintiffs fear substantial injury upon return to Mexico, but the likelihood of harm is reduced somewhat by the Mexican government’s commitment to honor its international-law obligations and to grant humanitarian status and work permits to individuals returned under the MPP,” the judges said.
Judge William Fletcher, appointed by President Bill Clinton, strongly disagreed with his colleagues in a concurring opinion, writing that the government did not have the authority to send back asylum seekers.
"The government is wrong. Not just arguably wrong, but clearly and flagrantly wrong," Fletcher wrote.
Cover Image: Migrants seeking asylum in the United States stand in line to receive breakfast from a group of volunteers in near the international bridge, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Matamoros, Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)