A U.S. judge on Monday halted the Trump administration’s policy of sending some asylum seekers back across the southern border to wait out their cases in Mexico, stopping a program the government planned to expand to stem a recent flood of migrants.
The ruling is slated to take effect on Friday, according to the order by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco. The preliminary injunction will apply nationwide.
In a late night tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “A 9th Circuit Judge just ruled that Mexico is too dangerous for migrants. So unfair to the U.S. OUT OF CONTROL!”
The program was launched in January and was one of many policies aimed at slowing rising numbers of immigrants arriving at the border, many of them families from Central America, that swelled last month to the highest in a decade.
Because of limits on how long children are legally allowed to be held in detention, many of the families are released to await U.S. immigration court hearings, a process that can take years because of ballooning backlogs.
The Trump administration said last week it planned to expand the program of sending some migrants to wait out their U.S. court dates in Mexican border cities under a policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP.
The government argued MPP was needed because so many asylum seekers spend years living in the United States and never appear for their court hearings before their claim is denied and an immigration judge orders them to be deported.
Seeborg said the Immigration and Nationalization Act, however, does not authorize the government to return asylum seekers to Mexico the way the government has applied it.
He also said the policy lacks safeguards to protect refugees from threats to their life or freedom.
Justice Department data show that while the percentage of immigration court cases completed “in absentia” – when the foreign citizen fails to show – has risen in recent years, the majority of immigrants show up for their hearings.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment on Monday’s ruling. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Mexican foreign ministry considers the ruling “an internal decision” of the United States, a spokesman said.
Seeborg said the government shall permit the 11 plaintiffs in the case to enter the United States beginning on Sunday. He said the government still retained the right to detain the asylum-seekers pending the outcome of their case.
The ruling can be appealed, and the government could seek a stay of the injunction until the appeals process runs its course.