Asylum seekers crossing the southern border may no longer have to return to Mexico while their cases are heard after a federal judge blocked the Department of Homeland Security’s Migrant Protection Protocols.
Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled April 9 that Homeland Security’s new protocols, announced in December 2018, did not adequately protect the safety of asylum applicants.
Shortly after the Migrant Protection Protocols were announced, the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration advocacy organizations filed a suit on behalf of 11 people seeking asylum in the United States from Central America.
The suit alleged that preventing the asylum seekers from staying in the United States is a violation of international law regarding humanitarian protections.
The protocols would have kept those seeking asylum in the United States in Mexico while their cases were being decided. Asylum seekers were to remain in Tijuana, near the border with the United States, and would be bussed to San Diego for court appearances.
The policy was intended to prevent asylum seekers from missing court appearances in favor of remaining in the United States illegally.
"Aliens trying to game the system to get into our country illegally will no longer be able to disappear into the United States, where many skip their court dates,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in December.
“Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico. 'Catch and release' will be replaced with 'catch and return,'" she said.
Nielsen resigned from the Department of Homeland Security on April 7, but remains in post until Wednesday. Her replacement has not yet been announced. Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, will serve as acting secretary.
Seeborg said that the policy did not properly ensure the safety of asylum applicants while their cases were being decided. The decision does not have immediate effect and the administration has until Friday afternoon to decide if they will appeal.
In November 2018, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration issued a joint statement with the presidents of Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Legal Immigration Network stating they concern at the Trump administration’s policy about asylum-seekers.
“While our teaching acknowledges the right of each nation to regulate its borders, we find this action deeply concerning,” said the statement.
“It will restrict and slow access to protection for hundreds of children and families fleeing violence in Central America, potentially leaving them in unsafe conditions in Mexico or in indefinite detention situations at the U.S./Mexico border. We reiterate that it is not a crime to seek asylum and this right to seek refuge is codified in our laws and in our values.”
The signatories said they hoped the administration would “seek other solutions” to improve the integrity of the immigration system, as well as protect children and families.
“The Catholic Church will continue to serve, accompany and assist all those who flee persecution, regardless of where they seek such protection and where they are from,” they said.