WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned lower court orders that blocked the Biden administration from ending a controversial Trump-era immigration program for asylum seekers.
Questions from conservative and liberal justices during nearly two hours of arguments suggested the court could free up the administration to end the “Stay in Mexico” a policy that forces some people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico for their hearings.
President Joe Biden suspended the program on his first day in office. After Texas and Missouri sued, lower courts asked immigration officials to reinstate it, though the current administration has returned far fewer people to Mexico than its predecessor.
The crux of the legal battle is whether, with far less detention capacity than is necessary, immigration authorities must send people to Mexico or have the discretion under federal law to release asylum seekers in the United States pending their hearings.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, Biden’s lead Supreme Court lawyer, told the justices the law does not contain a provision requiring migrants to be returned to Mexico and that there is a “significant public benefit” to release migrants who pass criminal history and other checks in the United States, keeping detention beds free for the most dangerous people.
Judges Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, at least one of whom the administration needs to win the case, suggested the administration has a better case than the states.
“You lose, it’s true, if the government is right about what the important public interest is,” Barrett said in an exchange with Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone II.
Several judges also echoed Prelogar’s view that no administration, including Trump’s, has fully complied with the requirement to make migrants wait in Mexico.
If states correctly interpret the law,
Judge Clarence Thomas asked, “Wouldn’t it be weird if Congress left in place an impossible law to enforce?”
Judge Elena Kagan was among the tribunal members who questioned whether the lower courts were unconscionably diving into international relations, as reinstating the program depends on Mexico’s willingness to accept migrants and close coordination between the country.
“What are we supposed to do, drive truckloads of people to Mexico and leave them in Mexico? Kagan asked Stone.
Judge Samuel Alito appeared to be the loudest voice on the states side, questioning the administration’s claim that it assesses migrants on a case-by-case basis before releasing them.
Border agents arrested migrants 221,000 times in March 2022 and nearly 66,000 migrants were released in the United States, according to a government court filing.
Alito said the situation resembled people waiting to attend a Washington Nationals game. If they have a ticket and no alcohol or firearms, they are admitted, Alito said.
“That’s basically what you do. You have a little checklist and you go, boom, boom, boom,” Alito said.
About 70,000 people have been enrolled in the program, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols, after President Donald Trump launched it in 2019 and made it a centerpiece of efforts to deter asylum seekers. asylum.
After Biden suspended the program, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ended it in June 2021. In October, DHS produced additional justifications for the policy’s demise, to no avail in court.
The program resumed in December, but barely 3,000 migrants had registered by the end of March, during a period when authorities stopped migrants about 700,000 times at the border.
The high court debated what to do with the limited nature of the disputed programme. Chief Justice John Roberts said he favors the administration’s position that it cannot detain everyone or possibly comply with the law. “But where does this lead us? » He asked.
Those forced to wait in Mexico generally say they are terrified of the dangerous Mexican border towns and find it very difficult to find lawyers to handle their asylum hearings.
States led by Democrats and progressive groups are on the side of the administration. Republican-led states and conservative groups sided with Texas and Missouri. These include the America First Legal Foundation, run by former Trump aides Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows.
As the court assesses the asylum policy, the administration is expected to end another key Trump-era border policy that was put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. It allows the authorities to expel migrants without the possibility of seeking asylum. The decision to end the authority of Title 42, named for a 1944 public health law, on May 23 is being legally challenged by 22 states and faces growing division within Biden’s Democratic Party.
A decision in Biden v. Texas, 21-954, is due in late June.