The Supreme Court sided with the Biden administration Thursday in its attempt to end a Trump-era policy that forces migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico.
Written by Chief Justice John Roberts and backed by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the court’s three liberal members, the majority opinion states that immigration law allows the federal government to end the program, dubbed Migrant Protection Protocols, but known colloquially as “Remain in Mexico.”
Administered by the Department of Homeland Security since 2019, the policy sent migrants who reached the U.S. border back into Mexico to wait for a decision in their immigration proceedings, regardless of their country of origin.
Prior immigration policy either detained or released migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
When the policy was enacted, reports of migrants living in squalid conditions along the U.S. border surfaced. Thousands of people were housed in camps, according to The New York Times, and stories of violence, sexual assault and kidnappings followed.
Saying it “goes against everything we stand for as a nation of immigrants” during his campaign, Biden has tried to scrap the program since he was elected. The administration’s attempts were held up by a coalition of GOP-led states, spearheaded by Texas.
The states argued that scaling back the policy violated U.S. immigration law, and that the Biden administration skipped several bureaucratic steps required under the Administrative Procedure Act. The District Court and the Court of Appeals sided with the states, and the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
Despite the lawsuit, the program was still scaled back under Biden — the Times reports that 7,200 migrants were sent back to Mexico since December 2021, compared to 70,000 under Trump in a single year.
The news on Thursday was celebrated by immigration advocates, who since Biden was elected have been calling on the administration to rescind the hardline policies of his predecessor.
“These policies have severe humanitarian consequences for asylum seekers, who are finding themselves at risk of murder, rape, extortion and other violence,” Olga Byrne, director of Asylum and Immigration Legal Services at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement. “... The harsh reality is that these conditions often resemble the threats and dangers that asylum-seekers originally fled from in their home countries.”
Dan Gordon, vice president of strategic communications at the National Immigration Forum, pointed out that the ruling asks the lower courts to decide whether the Biden administration complied with administrative law. That could hold up the White House’s plan to end the program.
“Though the ruling leaves open the possibility of procedural challenges in lower courts, today’s decision is a positive step,” he said in a statement. “The so-called Migrant Protection Protocols have always put human beings in danger and run counter to due process.”
Faith groups also chimed in on Thursday.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which filed an amicus brief supporting the end of the program, said “Remain in Mexico” was “immoral because it disregards the God-given dignity of those enrolled, contrary to Catholic social teaching.”
“Today’s decision recognizes and preserves the executive branch’s ability to reverse untenable, illegal and immoral policies, regardless of who is in office. The implementation of MPP has obstructed due process and subjected people to the very dangers that forced them to seek refuge in the United States in the first place,” Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, said in a statement.
Immigration hawks, on the other hand, decried the ruling and suggested it will lead to more chaos along the southern border at a time when search and rescues, migrant deaths and arrests are trending upward.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led the charge on the lawsuit, said, “Remain in Mexico” was “one of our last and best protections against the Dems’ border crisis. I will (continue) to fight to secure our border and hold Biden accountable in my dozen other border-security suits in federal court.”
Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs, an outspoken opponent of Biden’s approach to immigration, tweeted “Joe Biden has created the worst border crisis in our nation’s history. Terminating ‘Remain in Mexico’ will only make the crisis worse.”
Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a tumultuous few months in the courts for Biden’s immigration policies.
In May, a Louisiana judge issued a temporary restraining order that prevented the Biden administration from rescinding Title 42, a controversial public health policy that allowed officials to turn away asylum-seekers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
That ruling came after 24 Republican-led states, including Utah, sued the Biden administration over its decision to repeal the policy on May 23.
And on July 6, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a case that will determine the future of nearly 600,000 children of undocumented immigrants, or “Dreamers,” after nine GOP-controlled states sued over the program’s legality.
That court has not been kind to the Biden administration, and the case is expected to go to the Supreme Court.