The Trump administration caught a rare break last week when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, often adversarial to the administration’s goals, ruled that the “Remain in Mexico” policy could continue. The controversial policy aims to give U.S. officials patrolling the southern border and detaining migrants some breathing room during a growing crisis.
The White House announced in December that migrants applying for asylum at the U.S. southern border would have to wait in Mexico while their cases were adjudicated. A U.S. District Court judge blocked enforcement of the policy on April 8, arguing it did not adequately consider the danger migrants could face in Mexico. The Trump administration appealed the decision, and the 9th Circuit said the policy could continue while the case makes its way through courts. The judges said the Mexican government’s commitment “to honor its international law obligations and to grant humanitarian status and work permits” alleviated the danger to migrants.
Border agents apprehended a total of 98,977 migrants in April, according to numbers released by Customs and Border Patrol last week. A report from last month said the number of families seeking entry at the border has increased 600 percent in the last year, and only about 15 percent of those families will be granted asylum after receiving their notice to appear in court. Full shelters and detention centers are forcing agents to parole many detainees into the United States, guaranteeing many migrants at least a few years to live and work in the country due to the backlog of cases. If their hearing goes against them, they could try to stay illegally and avoid being caught.
The “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially called Migrant Protection Protocols, was designed to help solve the space shortage and prevent people from disappearing on parole while they wait for their hearing. Opponents say the policy will hurt migrants with legitimate asylum claims because in Mexico they will not have the same access to lawyers who can help build their case.
Associated Press reporters recently visited eight cities along the U.S.-Mexico border and found 13,000 migrants waiting to enter the country. Every day, U.S. officials inform their Mexican counterparts how many can cross, and the next people on the waiting list are allowed into the United States for their interviews. Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Diego, had the most waiting migrants: about 4,800.
Andrew Arthur, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, noted that the 9th Circuit acknowledged the seriousness of the migrant situation: “Most of the prior court decisions that have gone against the Trump administration … have simply maintained the status quo in the face of the administration’s efforts to tighten the immigration laws.” He also pointed out that the court recognized public interest favored “efficient administration of the immigration laws at the border.”
The case now awaits a full hearing in a lower court in San Francisco. Lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies against the policy are still playing out.