Judge Rules That Trump Administration Cannot Force Asylum Seekers to Remain in Mexico Until Their U.S. Hearing

US Mexico Asylum Seekers
Photo Credit AP Photo/Gregory Bull

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco issued a humbling ruling to the Trump administration on Monday, describing recent efforts to keep asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the southern border as a violation of existing laws. The decision came only a day after the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tendered her resignation from office.

The MPP, or Migrant Protection Protocols, is the policy used by the Trump administration to outsource its responsibility for asylum seekers to Mexico. Judge Seeborg clarified that his ruling was not an assessment of “whether the MPP is a wise, intelligent, or humane policy, or whether it is the best approach for addressing the circumstances the executive branch contends constitute a crisis.” His decision instead considers the MPP to be a violation of policies that are currently in place, policies ensuring that immigrants are not turned away to dangerous circumstances. The ruling may eventually be appealed by the U.S. government in the 9th Circuit.

Women and children in Tijuana, Mexico asylum
Photo Credit NYT Women and children in Tijuana, Mexico, on Saturday after getting a number to apply for asylum at the entrance of the border crossing to the United States.

The ACLU waged the lawsuit on behalf of 11 plaintiffs who were turned away to Mexico after seeking asylum at the border. Having won the case, they must now be allowed back into the country in a matter of days in order for the U.S. government to not be in violation of the law. The ACLU has suggested that the MPP exposes immigrants to a significantly increased risk of harm through kidnapping and sexual assault, as well as murder.

After the news of the ruling broke, the ACLU tweeted, “The violence and instability that asylum seekers face on the Mexican side of the border is well-documented. Our government sent hundreds of asylum seekers there anyway.”

While there are currently hundreds of asylum seekers awaiting their U.S. court hearings on the southern side of the border, Monday’s ruling does not retroactively apply to them, only to the 11 plaintiffs. It does, however, forbid the MPP from being reinstated or expanded as a way to protect future asylum seekers from being relegated to dangerous conditions in Mexico. The ruling will take effect at the end of the week. “What it will mean is that nobody else can be sent to Mexico,” ACLU lawyer Judy Rabinovitz, told the Washington Post. “They can’t enforce this policy.”

At the beginning of the month, Secretary Nielsen suggested that the MPP would be a safe way to house asylum seekers who we could otherwise expect to be no-shows at their scheduled court hearings. She tweeted, “That is why @DHSgov will require more migrants to wait in Mexico, with appropriate humanitarian protections, during their immigration proceedings to prevent fraud & ensure they don’t escape the law and disappear into the country.” Trump has offered a comparable critique of the catch and release program, suggesting that it allayed migrants’ fears of deportation because there’s no way to force them for appearing in court at their scheduled hearing. Despite Trump’s conspiratorial fear mongering though, Reuters cited the fact that “a majority of immigrants show up for their hearings.”