Yet another defeat for a Department of Homeland Security stuck between the judiciary and an enraged and impatient president.
A federal judge in California ruled that the Trump administration can no longer return Central American asylum seekers to wait in Mexico before (and between) hearings in their asylum cases.
The policy, known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols” or the “Remain in Mexico” policy, has resulted in more than 600 asylum seekers being sent back to Mexico since late January — with more than 250 of those coming in the last two weeks, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) aggressively expanded its use along the US-Mexico border at the direction of former department Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
The new ruling by Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California, in the lawsuit Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen, requires the administration to allow people who have already been returned to stay in the US after their next court hearings, and to stop returning new people to Mexico under the policy.
The ruling maintains that the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provision allowing the government to return migrants to a “contiguous country” while their cases are pending does not apply to asylum seekers, and that the way the Trump administration was implementing the policy — returning asylum seekers until they met an unusually high standard of proving they would be persecuted in Mexico — failed to protect migrants from danger.
Seeborg’s ruling comes as the department is already in upheaval. Nielsen resigned under pressure from President Donald Trump on Sunday night; Customs and Border Protection Kevin McAleenan (who helped oversee the implementation of the “Remain in Mexico” policy) has been named her acting replacement, apparently in contradiction of federal vacancies law.
The other DHS official responsible for overseeing the implementation of the return-to-Mexico policy, US Customs and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna — whose agency included the asylum officers that engaged in infrequent and unusual screenings of asylum seekers who claimed to be afraid of being returned to Mexico — is reportedly under pressure from Stephen Miller, a Trump aide and immigration hawk, to leave as well.
By Dara Lind for VOX
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