(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court backed the Trump administration on a key border policy, letting the government keep enforcing a rule that has forced 60,000 people to wait in Mexico while they seek asylum.
The justices, over a dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, blocked a federal appeals court decision that would have let future asylum seekers stay in the U.S. temporarily while their applications are being processed. The appeals court ruling, which would have applied to new applicants in California and Arizona, was set to take effect Thursday.
The Supreme Court action suggests the justices are likely to uphold the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “remain in Mexico” program, should they take up the challenge directly at some point. Neither the court nor Sotomayor gave any reasons.
The high court order also averts what President Donald Trump’s administration argued would have been a “rush to the border” if the appeals court decision had taken effect. Crowds of migrants gathered at border crossings in February after that court issued the ruling.
“The injunction is virtually assured to cause chaos at the border, thereby seriously compromising the government’s compelling interests in safety and in the integrity of our borders,” U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in court papers.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement the Supreme Court order was a “major victory for the Trump administration.”
Opponents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union say the asylum seekers are being exposed to kidnapping, assault and rape in Mexico. The group said the policy violates U.S. obligations under domestic and international law not to send people to places where they will suffer persecution or torture.
The policy “has created a humanitarian crisis on Mexico’s northern border, putting asylum seekers in harm’s way, increasing the burden on local Mexican cities, and triggering an increase in nativism and xenophobia,” the ACLU argued.
Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer with the ACLU, said asylum seekers “face grave danger and irreversible harm every day this depraved policy remains in effect.”
She added, “The Court of Appeals unequivocally declared this policy to be illegal. The Supreme Court should as well.”
The opponents said a trial judge’s order upheld by the appeals court would apply to a limited number of people, including the ACLU’s clients and new asylum applicants, and wouldn’t require the immediate re-entry of people previously forced to stay in Mexico.
The New York Times reported last week that the administration was sending troops to the border in anticipation of action by the Supreme Court. The administration told the high court that 25,000 of the 60,000 people sent to Mexico still have pending asylum claims.
“We are gratified that the Supreme Court granted a stay, which prevents a district court injunction from impairing the security of our borders and the integrity of our immigration system,” the Justice Department said in an emailed statement after the court acted.
The Supreme Court last year backed Trump on a separate border issue, clearing his administration to enforce a new rule that sharply limited who can apply for asylum at the southern border. That rule requires people who came from countries other than Mexico to first apply for protection from one of the countries they passed through on the way to the border.
The case is Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab, 19A960.
(Updates with White House reaction in sixth paragraph)
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