WASHINGTON — A California judge on Monday blocked President Trump’s efforts to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated by the immigration courts — a practice that immigration advocates called inhumane and illegal.
Judge Richard Seeborg of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California found that existing law did not give the Trump administration the power to enforce the policy, known as “migrant protection protocols,” which were introduced in San Diego and expanded to other parts of California and Texas.
The judge said in his ruling that in addition to violating immigration laws, the protocols did not include “sufficient safeguards” to comply with the Department of Homeland Security’s obligation against returning migrants to places where their “life or freedom would be threatened.”
Immigration advocates hailed the decision, calling it the latest victory in the legal battles with the Trump administration that began when the president imposed a travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries just days after taking office in 2017.
“Today’s victory is especially important amidst reports that the Trump administration is planning to move toward even more extreme immigration policies,” said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The decision will prevent incredibly vulnerable individuals from being trapped in dangerous conditions in Mexico.”
The Trump administration had negotiated the protocols with the Mexican government because of the president’s longstanding anger with so-called catch and release policies in which asylum seekers are temporarily released into the United States while they wait for their court hearings.
Mr. Trump has angrily denounced those releases, saying the migrants do not appear for their hearings and end up staying in the United States illegally. The policy of forcing some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico was an effort to stop that from happening.
But the court ruling means that the president will have to abandon that policy, at least for the time being. That is likely to add to the president’s anger, which erupted over the weekend when he forced Kirstjen Nielsen, his homeland security secretary, to resign.