The Trump administration is blocked from making thousands of Central American migrants wait out the result of their asylum applications to the U.S. in Mexico.
The San Francisco-based appeals court on Friday upheld a judge’s order barring the Homeland Security Department’s policy, which prevents migrants from countries like Guatemala and Honduras from living in the U.S. during the yearslong review process.
The administration was allowed in May by a three-judge panel to implement the Migrant Protections Protocols policy — one of its major initiatives to stem immigration across the U.S. southern border — but Friday’s ruling halts it while the legal fight continues.
Read More: Trump Barred From Forcing Asylum Seekers to Wait in Mexico
”Uncontested evidence” shows that non-Mexicans returned to Mexico under Trump’s policy “risk substantial harm, even death, while they await adjudication of their applications for asylum,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher wrote for the majority in the 2-1 ruling.
As of January, more than 57,000 asylum seekers and migrants had been returned to Mexico to wait for their court dates, according toHuman Rights First, a New York-based international nonprofit. Of those, 25,000 were sent back to Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas, which the U.S. State Department has designated a “do not travel” area because of the risk of crime and kidnapping, the organization said.
Asylum seekers who have been returned to Mexico are targeted by kidnappers and face assault in shelters, in taxis and buses, and on the streets when looking for food, Human Rights First said in a Jan. 22 statement. Multiple children in Matamoros have reported that they fear human traffickers are targeting the camp there, the organization said.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.
“The court forcefully rejected the Trump administration’s assertion that it could strand asylum seekers in Mexico and subject them to grave danger,” Judy Rabinovitz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “It’s time for the administration to follow the law and stop putting asylum seekers in harm’s way.”
Fletcher, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, was joined in his opinion by Richard Paez, another Clinton appointee.
In a dissent, Circuit Judge Ferdinand Fernandez, an appointee of George H.W. Bush, said the lower-court order should have been struck down because the migrants challenging the policy weren’t likely to prevail on their claims.
In aseparate ruling Friday, the same three-judge panel upheld a San Francisco judge’s 2018 order blocking the Trump administration’s policy of automatically denying asylum applications of migrants who cross the U.S. border outside official ports of entry.
The case is Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan, 19-15716, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).
— With assistance by Malathi Nayak, and Jordan Fabian
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