Broken Border

Supreme Court lets Trump's rule for asylum seekers on southern border stand

The ruling made Wednesday allows the policy — which requires many migrants to seek asylum in countries other than the United States — to continue in the states on the nation's southern border.

Asylum seekers from Central and South America wait on the Mexican side of the Brownsville/Gateway Bridge.
Asylum seekers from Central and South America wait on the Mexican side of the Brownsville/Gateway Bridge.  Reynaldo Leal for The Texas Tribune

Editor's note: This story has been updated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to let the asylum rule stay in place for now.

The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand — for now — a Trump administration rule that denies asylum to immigrants who didn’t first seek refuge in another country before reaching the United States.

The decision, announced late Wednesday, comes after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals late Tuesday put on hold an earlier ruling by federal district Judge Jon Tigar, who issued a nationwide injunction on the rule Monday.

The Supreme Court’s action is at least the fifth decision by the courts on the rule since the Trump administration announced it in July as a way to deter Central Americans and others from seeking asylum in the U.S. The high court said the decision stands until the case plays out.

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Tigar halted the policy soon after it was announced, but a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled the ban could only take effect in Arizona and California, a decision that allowed the policy to be implemented in Texas and New Mexico.

Tigar then reinstated the nationwide injunction with his Monday ruling, only to see the appeals court allow the policy to continue in Texas and New Mexico.

After Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision, the rule is now in effect in all four border states.

The appeals court has asked the Trump administration and four plaintiffs suing over the asylum rule —East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab and the Central American Resource Center — to file responses to the court's latest action by next Thursday.

The rule is just one of several policies, including the Migrant Protection Protocols, that the administration has issued in order to deter asylum seekers. The MPP program requires migrants to return to Mexico as they wait for their asylum hearings. That policy is also being challenged in court but has been allowed to continue as the case winds through the federal courts. Although apprehension numbers dipped significantly from July to August along the U.S.-Mexico border, yearly totals have already surpassed 2018’s numbers, especially in Texas.

From October to August, more than 205,000 family units were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector, which covers South Texas — a 277% increase over the same period in 2018, according to CBP statistics. About 33,100 unaccompanied minors have also been apprehended in the sector so far this year, compared with 21,556 during 2018 – a 54% increase.

Agents in the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, apprehended about 129,400 family units from October to August of the current fiscal year, along with 15,800 unaccompanied minors.

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