By Tom Hals
WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) - The U.S. government can continue at least temporarily to send asylum seekers back to Mexico after President Donald Trump scored a rare ruling in his favor on Friday from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The asylum program was set to be shut down at 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT) by an order issued on Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg, but the Trump administration had asked for the Court of Appeals in San Francisco to intervene.
The Court of Appeals issued a two-paragraph order saying the lower court injunction was temporarily stayed while the parties prepare to submit arguments next week on the government's request for a longer stay that would remain in place for the months-long appeals process.
The government told the Court of Appeals in papers filed late Thursday that the United States faced "a humanitarian and security crisis" at the southern border and needed to the policy to deal with surging number of refugees.
Seeborg had ruled on Monday the policy was contrary to U.S. immigration law and ordered a nationwide injunction to halt the program, but delayed implementation of his order to allow the government to appeal.
"This is an interim step while the court considers the government’s stay request," said a statement from Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who represented plaintiffs in the case and who opposed the stay.
Since January, the administration has sent more than 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Central America, back to Mexico to wait the months or years it can take to process claims through an overloaded immigration system.
Although it is appealing and the lower court order had yet to take effect, Reuters reporters confirmed that the Trump administration was allowing some asylum seekers from Mexico to return to the United States.
Trump has bristled at limits on his administration's ability to detain asylum seekers while they fight deportation, and the administration was in the midst of expanding the program when Seeborg blocked it.
The 9th Circuit Court has been a frequent target for Trump's criticisms of the judicial system, which has blocked his immigration policies on numerous occasions.
After Seeborg ruled on Monday, Trump tweeted: "A 9th Circuit Judge just ruled that Mexico is too dangerous for migrants. So unfair to the U.S. OUT OF CONTROL!"
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Tom Brown)