The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear President Joe Biden’s bid to rescind a hardline immigration policy begun under his predecessor Donald Trump that forced tens of thousands of migrants to stay in Mexico to await U.S. hearings on their asylum claims.
The justices will hear a Biden administration appeal of a lower court ruling that reinstated the so-called “remain in Mexico” policy after the Republican-led states of Texas and Missouri had sued to maintain the program. Biden suspended the policy, which changed longstanding U.S. practice, shortly after taking office last year.
The Supreme Court fast-tracked the case so it can be argued during its current term in April, with a ruling expected by the end of June.
Trump’s administration said what it called a security and humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexican border justified refusing to allow migrants seeking asylum, because of a fear of persecution in their home countries, to enter the United States ahead of hearings before immigration judges. The policy is formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).
Prior administrations had used the federal immigration provision at issue in the case, which took effect in 1997, on a limited basis, court papers said.
The Biden administration said the provision is clearly discretionary and that the lower court’s decision means that every presidential administration “has been in continuous and systematic violation” of the law since it was created.
Roughly 68,000 people fell under the policy from the time it took effect in 2019 until Biden suspended it in 2021.
Biden’s fellow Democrats and immigration advocates criticized the Trump policy, saying migrants stuck in Mexican border cities have faced kidnappings and other dangers.
Texas and Missouri challenged the Biden administration’s move to scrap the policy, including a memo terminating the program issued last June.
After a federal judge reinstated the program, the Supreme Court last August refused a Biden administration request to block that ruling while the government pursued an appeal.
The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December upheld the judge’s decision, ruling that Biden’s action violated both federal immigration and administrative law. The 5th Circuit said that because the government does not have the capacity to detain all migrants who are not eligible for admission pending a hearing, it must maintain “remain in Mexico.”
In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Biden’s administration said it is being “forced to reinstate and continue implementing indefinitely a controversial policy” that exposes migrants to safety risks, harms relations with Mexico and is not the best tool for deterring illegal immigration.
The administration also said that the lower courts are unacceptably interfering with the historically broad authority that U.S. presidents have held over immigration and foreign affairs – a principle that the Supreme Court has long endorsed including in cases when Trump was president.
The number of migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has soared to record highs recently, with Trump’s fellow Republicans criticizing Biden’s immigration policies.
Biden’s administration has left in place a separate Trump-era order that lets U.S. border authorities, because of the COVID-19 public health crisis, rapidly expel migrants caught at the border without giving them a chance to seek asylum in the United States.