U.S. appeals court blocks Trump policy forcing migrants to wait in Mexico

A U.S. federal appeals court in on Friday blocked a Trump administration policy that has forced tens of thousands of to wait in Mexico for months for hearings in U.S. immigration courts.

Three judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the policy conflicted with the text and congressional purpose of U.S. immigration laws.

The program, which began a year ago and is called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), is one of the most dramatic immigration policy changes enacted by the Trump administration.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment but the administration is likely to quickly appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court as it has done with other rulings.

Some 59,000 people have been sent back to Mexico under the program, which started in San Diego before being expanded to other ports of entry all across the U.S-Mexico border.

Migrants, many of them children, have faced violence and homelessness as they wait for their court dates in dangerous border cities. At least 343 people returned under the program were violently attacked or threatened in Mexico, according to an Oct. 1 Human Rights Watch report which documented kidnappings, rapes and assaults.

The Trump administration argued the program did not violate a principle in international law known as non-refoulement, which says asylum seekers should not be returned to places where they face danger. The administration has said migrants could tell officials at any point in the process they had a fear of returning to Mexico.

But the panel concluded that plaintiffs in the case, which included several immigration advocacy groups, "had shown a likelihood of success on their claim that the MPP does not comply with the United States' treaty-based non-refoulement obligations."

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made cracking down on immigration a central theme of his more than three years in the White House, has sought to reduce the ballooning number of asylum claims filed mostly by Central Americans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border through a series of new policies and rule changes.

The administration has said most asylum petitions are ultimately denied by immigration courts and releasing migrants into the United States to wait for hearings encourages people to disappear into the country. Officials say forcing migrants to is a way to cut down on fraudulent asylum claims.

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