The US Supreme Court on Thursday gave the green light to President Joe Biden’s administration to end the so-called Stay in Mexico policy instituted by Donald Trump as part of his hardline approach to immigration problem.
Under this policy, some non-Mexicans who entered the United States illegally through the southern border were sent back to Mexico to wait while their immigration cases went to court, instead of detained or temporarily released.
Since the beginning of his term, Biden has tried to tone down the policy as part of what he claims is more humane on immigration.
Migrant advocates say the policy exposes asylum seekers to dangerous conditions in Mexico as overwhelmed US courts slowly settle backlogs of cases.
Thursday’s ruling in favor of the Biden administration was split 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining conservative colleague Brett Kavanaugh and the court’s three liberal judges in a majority.
Roberts, the majority opinion author, argues that federal immigration law allows the executive agency to bring asylum seekers back to Mexico, but does not force the agency to do so.
“Congress has granted the right to return contiguous territory on expressly arbitrary terms,” the opinion stated.
Biden’s attempt to end the policy, instituted by Trump in 2019, has been challenged by a group of Republican-led states led by Texas.
The states argued that his move violated US immigration law by forcing the authorities to release migrants they had detained into US territory. They also said that Biden officials failed to follow proper administrative procedure.
A lower court in August 2021 ruled against the Biden administration, and the case eventually ended up before the nation’s highest court.
At first, the Supreme Court simply refused to freeze the lower court ruling, forcing the administration to restart the policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), while continuing to appeal.
From the policy’s inception in January 2019 until its suspension under Biden, nearly 70,000 people were sent back to Mexico, according to the Council on American Immigration.
Since the most recent reinstatement, fewer migrants have been brought back through the program.
During Biden’s presidency, more than 200,000 people tried to illegally enter the country each month and were sent home, either under the MPP or a separate Covid-related policy that stops people at the border.
Illegal border crossings are often very dangerous, both for the physical conditions in the area and for the abuse by traffickers. This week, 53 people died after being herded into an un-air-conditioned trailer that was later abandoned in San Antonio, Texas.
The American Civil Liberties Union praised the court’s ruling on Thursday.
Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project said: “The Supreme Court was correct in rejecting the false argument that this cruel policy is legally required.
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