Appeals court lets Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy for asylum seekers stand

By Julián Aguilar, The Texas Tribune | May 7, 2019

Featured photo: Asylum seekers from Central and South America wait on the Mexican side of the Brownsville's Gateway International Bridge. | Reynaldo Leal for The Texas Tribune."Appeals court lets Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy for asylum seekers stand" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

The policy, officially called Migration Protection Protocols, requires some Central Americans who are seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico for their immigration hearings.

A federal judge in California temporarily blocked the program April 8, but a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later put that order on hold later that month pending the Trump administration's appeal. Tuesday’s decision means the program will continue and that hundreds — if not thousands more asylum seekers — will be sent back pending future hearings.

The program began in California in January and was expanded to the El Paso ports of entries in March. Lawyers, faith-based groups and non-profit organizations in El Paso have since highlighted the significant impact the policy has had on being able to provide adequate representation to their clients, who they said are hard to track down in Mexico because shelter space is limited there and it's often unclear where their clients are staying from one day to the next. Lawyers also say their clients face threats and have expressed fear of living in border cities that are prone to violence.

In Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, there were more than 150 reported homicides in April and a more than 470 since January. The monthly total is the highest since the tail-end of the drug war that claimed thousands of lives from 2008 to 2011.

Linda Rivas, the managing attorney at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center who represents some of the migrant families, said last week one of her clients was kidnaped in Ciudad Juárez recently.

“’You all come to steal our jobs’ was one of the statements that was made while he was held captive,” she told reporters. “Another [client was told] 'If I ever see you cross here again I am going to kill you.’”

May is also off to a violent start as the killings in Ciudad Juárez have included three Honduran migrants, Mexican media reported earlier this week.

The judges took the violence into account in their decision but said they believed the Mexican government was doing its best to quell the violence.

"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 filing states. “We are hesitant to disturb this compromise amid ongoing diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Mexico."

The ruling also states that “the public interest favors the 'efficient administration of the immigration laws at the border.'”

More than 3,200 migrants have been returned to Mexico, CBS News tweeted earlier this week.

The case in California was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies on behalf of 11 asylum seekers that had been returned to Mexico after the program was first launched. In a statement Tuesday the rights group said the ruling isn’t ideal but said they were hopeful the program would ultimately be blocked because of doubts about its legality that are raised in the ruling.

“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,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Disclosure: Southern Poverty Law Center has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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