A federal appeals court said Friday that the Trump administration could temporarily continue to force migrants seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico while their cases are decided.
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a stay of a lower-court ruling four days earlier that blocked the administration’s protocol. The appeals court will consider next week whether to extend that stay — and allow the Trump administration policy to remain in effect for longer.
The administration in December announced its new policy, called the migration protection protocols, arguing that it would help stop people from using the asylum process to enter the country and remain there illegally. President Trump has long been angered by so-called catch and release policies, under which asylum seekers are temporarily allowed in the United States while they wait for their court hearings.
On Monday, Judge Richard Seeborg of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued an injunction against Mr. Trump’s new protocols, saying that the president did not have the power to enforce them and that they violated immigration laws.
Judge Seeborg said in his ruling that the protocols did not include “sufficient safeguards” to comply with the Department of Homeland Security’s obligation against returning migrants to places where their “life or freedom would be threatened.”
On Friday, as Judge Seeborg’s injunction was set to go into effect, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit issued the temporary stay.
In a tweet late Friday night, President Trump wrote: “Finally, great news at the Border!” He has previously criticized the Ninth Circuit, which is based in San Francisco, saying that the court always ruled against him. While that is not always true, the administration’s track record in the circuit has been poor.
The Justice Department, which appealed Judge Seeborg’s decision, argued that the injunction would “impose immediate, substantial harm on the United States, including by diminishing the executive branch’s ability to work effectively with Mexico to manage the crisis on our shared border.”
The Ninth Circuit will consider next week whether to keep the stay — and Mr. Trump’s protocols — in place during the appeal.
Judy Rabinovitz, the deputy director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued the case, said she expected that decision to come next week.
“The question will be, can the government continue to implement the policy while it appeals it to the Ninth Circuit,” she said. “Obviously, we don’t think it should be able to.”
She called the policy unlawful and cruel.
“We think it should be stopped,” she said.
Lawyers for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The appeals court’s decision comes as the nation’s immigration system may have reached a breaking point as migrants increasingly arrive at the country’s southwestern border with Mexico.
The flow of migrant families has reached record levels, with February totals 560 percent above those for the same period last year. Many are seeking asylum, in which they have the burden to show evidence of past persecution or testimony that establishes the “well-founded” fear that they would face danger if they return home.
The Trump administration’s migration protection protocols were an attempt to deter migrants. Mexico’s government reluctantly agreed to house the migrants in December.