Ninth Circuit Court: Trump administration must stop returning asylum seekers to Mexico

It’s probably one of the most successful policies to reduce the number of migrants showing up at the southern US border. Today a 3-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the remain in Mexico policy is illegal:

Since the new restrictions were rolled out early in 2019, more than 59,000 asylum seekers have been turned back by American authorities into Mexican border cities, where kidnappings and violence have surged. Because shelters in Mexico are scant and overrun, many of the migrants are living in vast tent encampments exposed to the elements. Powerful Mexican drug cartels have moved in to exploit them…

The policy the court reviewed is known formally as “migrant protection protocols” — though the lawyers who challenged it argued that it did just the opposite by placing vulnerable people in harm’s way. Instead of safeguarding people fleeing persecution abroad, as is required under federal law, the policy merely banished them to perilous conditions in a different place, the lawyers argued.

In their opinion on Friday, the judges said the policy is “invalid in its entirety” and concluded that a lower-court ruling that initially enjoined its implementation was “not an abuse of discretion.”…

“On every level, it’s the opposite of protecting people,” said Karen Musalo, a lawyer and professor at the University of California, Hastings law school who helped to argue the case, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and several other advocacy groups. “It’s really putting them at such great risk.”

Things really are terrible in Mexico right now. President Obrador’s “hugs not bullets” campaign against cartel violence has been a disaster. Last year there were more than 35,000 murders in Mexico, the highest level of violent crime ever recorded.

But the fact remains that the caravans of migrants making their way to the US in order to claim asylum are overwhelmingly economic migrants looking for better jobs or a better life. That’s certainly understandable but those aren’t grounds for an asylum claim in the US, which is why the claims of most of these migrants will eventually be denied. Most of the Central American migrants claiming asylum (and in some cases bringing along kids) are doing so because they know it’s the best way to game the system. They get released into the country to await a court date. Some will never show up and some will be deported and return illegally. Claiming asylum has become a shortcut, a way to bypass the line.

The remain in Mexico policy was a way to successfully discourage that. And it needed to be discouraged because last May, more than 3,000 people per day were turning up at the border, completely overwhelming the system to the point that even the NY Times admitted there was a crisis. Overall the number of apprehensions at the border in FY 2019, just over 850,000, was the highest tally since 2007.

As you may recall, some Democrats saw the crisis as an opportunity to attack overwhelmed detention centers as “concentration camps.” The reason you don’t hear about that anymore is because, thanks in part to the Remain in Mexico policy, border apprehensions have dropped for eight straight months.

So does this court ruling mean we’ll see a return to last summer’s border crisis? Not necessarily. As the Washington Post pointed out last week, fewer and fewer migrants are being returned to Mexico no because of other policies the administration has put in place:

Instead of allowing Central American migrants access to U.S. courts and having them wait in Mexican border towns, the government instead is quickly sending them to Guatemala to pursue asylum claims there. Instead of allowing Mexicans to stay in the United States to follow a lengthy court process, the Trump administration is fast-tracking deportation proceedings and pushing people out of the country within days.

Of course, those policies are also being challenged in court. But even with today’s win, it’s not clear what the immediate result of this decision will be. Will the tens of thousands of migrants awaiting asylum hearings be moved to the US and if so how?

The political aspect to this is obvious. Democratic opponents of the current policy will celebrate the policy’s demise and then, if the migrants awaiting asylum hearings are moved to American detention centers, they will start up their attacks on “concentration camps” all over again. It’s a perfect issue for them in the 2020 election.

Apart from the politics, there’s a real risk that this reversal could encourage more economic migrants to make the long, dangerous journey to the border. We don’t want a return to the crisis of last summer even if some Democrats think it’s in their partisan interest. I’ll close this out with some of the reactions on Twitter:

No response from President Trump…yet.

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