SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday temporarily halted a Trump administration policy to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. immigration courts.
The same court decided to keep another major change on hold, one that denies asylum to anyone who enters the U.S. illegally from Mexico.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the two policies that are central to President Donald Trump’s asylum crackdown, dealing the administration a major setback, even if it proves temporary.
The question before the judges was whether to let the policies take effect during legal challenges.
The Trump administration has made asylum an increasingly remote possibility at a time when claims have soared. By 2017, the United States had become the world’s top destination for people seeking asylum.
The “Remain in Mexico” measure took effect in January 2019 and nearly 60,000 people have been sent back to wait for hearings. The court declared the policy invalid, but acknowledged the ruling only applied to California and Arizona, the only border states in their jurisdiction.
The other measure with far-reaching consequences denies asylum to anyone who passes through another country on the way to the U.S. border with Mexico without seeking protection there first. That policy took effect in September and is being challenged in a separate lawsuit.
Justice Department lawyers asserted that Trump was within his rights to impose the policies without Congress’ approval and that they would help deter asylum claims that lack merit.
Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the administration violated U.S. law and obligations to international treaties by turning back people who will likely be persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality or political beliefs.