• U.S. granted asylum to only 30,000 people last year
  • Court said Congress recognized asylum-seekers don't have the "luxury of choosing their excape route into the United States"
  • The policy was part of an overarching effort by the administration to reduce the number of immigrants entering the U.S.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday overturned the Trump administration remain-in-Mexico policy that forces asylum-seekers to remain on the other side of the border while awaiting a decision on whether they should be allowed to immigrate.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which often is criticized by President Trump as too liberal, ruled 2-1 asylum-seekers must be allowed into the U.S. while their cases make their way through the immigration process.

Officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, the policy imposed early last year required asylum-seekers to await adjudication in Mexico. The rules were aimed at keeping families from exploiting a loophole in immigration policy that prevented keeping children in detention for more than 20 days. Since then, more than 59,000 have been turned back at the border, forcing them into tent cities where they have become victims of kidnappings and other violence.

“Forty years ago, Congress recognized that refugees fleeing imminent persecution do not have the luxury of choosing their escape route into the United States. It mandated equity in its treatment of all refugees, however they arrived,” Judge Richard A. Paez, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the majority.

He added: “By categorically denying refugees an opportunity to seek asylum only because of their method of entry, the rule is also in tension with the United States’ commitment to avoid refouling individuals to countries where their lives are threatened.”

The judges called the policy “invalid in its entirety” because it is inconsistent with federal law. The policy is just one aspect of the administration’s anti-immigration effort, which includes the border wall at the Mexico border and sharp cuts to legal immigration as well as stepped up enforcement against undocumented immigrants.

In fiscal 2019, just 30,000 people were granted U.S. asylum by the State Department, down from a peak of 206,116 in 1980.

The administration has made it more difficult for immigrants to seek asylum and signed a deal with Guatemala for resettlement of asylum-seekers there. Asylum-seekers from Central America also are required to seek asylum elsewhere first – another policy that is under federal court challenge.

(Case No. 18-17274 , East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, et al v. Donald J. Trump et al)