By JESSICA GRESKO and ELLIOT SPAGAT – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Thursday that the Biden administration could scrap a Trump-era immigration policy to keep asylum seekers in Mexico waiting for hearings in U.S. immigration courts, a win for a White House yet to address the growing number people seeking refuge on America’s southern border.
The ruling will have few immediate implications, as the policy has rarely been enforced under President Joe Biden, who reinstated it in December under a court order. It was his predecessor, Donald Trump, who launched the “Stay in Mexico” policy and fully embraced it.
Two conservative judges joined their three liberal colleagues at the White House.
Under Trump, the program enrolled about 70,000 people after it launched in 2019. Biden suspended the policy, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, on his first day in office in January 2021. – Texas and Missouri headed.
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Border dynamics have changed significantly since “Stay in Mexico” was a central part of Trump’s border policy.
Another Trump-era policy that remains in effect and was not part of Thursday’s ruling allows the administration to quickly expel migrants without the chance to apply for asylum, under US law and an international treaty. set aside on the grounds of containing the spread of COVID-19 . There have been more than 2 million evictions since the pandemic rule, known as Title 42 authority, was enacted in March 2020.
In May, a federal judge in Louisiana prevented the Biden administration from shutting down Title 42, in a case that could eventually reach the Supreme Court.
The court’s ruling was announced Thursday, the same day the judges dealt a blow to the administration in a major environmental case over the country’s key anti-air pollution law. That ruling could complicate the government’s plans to combat climate change.
At the heart of the legal battle in the immigration case was whether the U.S. immigration authorities should send people to Mexico, with much less detention capacity than necessary, or whether those authorities had the power under federal law to release asylum seekers. in the United States while awaiting interrogation.
After Biden suspended the program, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas terminated it in June 2021. In October, the department produced additional justifications for the policy’s demise, but to no avail in the courts.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that an appeals court “made a mistake in holding that the “Federal Immigration and Nationality Act” required the government to proceed with the implementation of MPP”. In addition to the majority opinion were fellow conservative Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee, as well as liberal judges Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Kavanaugh also wrote separately, noting that in general, when there is insufficient detention capacity, both releasing asylum seekers in the United States and returning them to Mexico are “legally permissible options under immigration statutes.”
There was no immediate comment from Biden or the Department of Homeland Security.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell University law professor, an immigration expert, said the Biden administration does not need to take any further action to end the policy, but Texas and Missouri may face a challenge as to whether the government followed proper procedure in terminating the program .
Disputing himself and fellow conservatives Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, Judge Samuel Alito wrote that the practice of releasing “uncountable numbers of aliens” into the United States “is contrary to the clear provisions of the law, but the court looks the other way.” Judge Amy Comey Barrett said she agreed with the majority’s analysis of the merits of the case, but would have sent the case back to a lower court for reconsideration.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement the decision was “unfortunate”. He claimed it would “make the border crisis worse. But it’s not the end. I will continue to focus on securing the border and keeping our communities safe in the dozens of other immigration cases I am taking in court.” Governor Greg Abbott, R-Texas, said the decision would “only encourage the Biden administration’s open borders policy.”
As of December, the administration has registered only 7,259 migrants in “Stay in Mexico”. US authorities stopped migrants at the border with Mexico 1.2 million times from December to May, illustrating the limited impact of the policy under Biden.
About 6 out of every 10 people in the program are Nicaraguans. The government has said it will apply the policy to nationalities less likely to fall under the broader Title 42 policy. Tense diplomatic relations with Nicaragua make it extremely difficult for the US to return people to their home countries under Title 42.
Immigrant advocates acknowledged that a relatively small number of asylum seekers arriving at the southwest border are affected by the MPP program covered by the court’s ruling. Still, there were proponents and Democrats who welcomed the decision, as did those waiting in Mexico.
Oscar Rene Cruz, a taxi driver from Nicaragua who is at a Salvation Army shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, said after the verdict: “We are all very happy, waiting to see what will happen to us now, we know that the program is ready, but we have not been told what they are going to do with us.”
Cruz added: “I wish this would be over soon. Nobody wants to stay here” in Mexico.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said in a statement that those “who are fleeing violence and persecution to seek asylum – to which they are legally entitled – should not be forced to stay in places that are considered dangerous and considered unsafe while waiting for their day in court.”
Jacob Lichtenbaum, staff attorney for Maryland immigrant rights group CASA, called the ruling a “major victory for security, compassion and the rule of law.”
But New York Rep. John Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the program was a critical tool to help manage arrivals at the Southwestern border and the current administration has no plan to address the problem. .
The case is Biden v. Texas, 21-954.
Spagat reported from San Diego. Associated Press writers Amy Taxin in Orange County, California, Jorge Lebrija in Tijuana, Mexico, and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.
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