A group of US asylum officers urged a federal appeals court Wednesday to block a Trump administration program forcing Central American immigrants to remain in Mexico as their cases are processed in the US, calling the directive “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our nation.”
The policy, called Migration Protection Protocols, was initiated earlier this year and has since expanded across various portions of the southern border. As of June 24, more than 15,000 people had been sent back to Mexico through the program, according to Mexican government officials.
“By forcing a vulnerable population to return to a hostile territory where they are likely to face persecution, the MPP abandons our tradition of providing a safe haven to the persecuted and violates our international and domestic legal obligations,” the asylum officers’ union, American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, wrote.
The filing with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California is the most recent turn in a pivotal case challenging the Trump administration’s attempt to deter asylum-seekers from crossing the border to request refuge. In the past week, the administration has come under fire as rapidly deteriorating conditions inside Border Patrol facilities have been revealed, and record numbers of families and children continue to cross the border.
In April, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the policy, but before that could happen, the 9th Circuit Court instituted a temporary stay. Later, in May, the San Francisco–based panel — Judges Paul J. Watford, Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, and William A. Fletcher — granted the government’s stay of the preliminary injunction, pending its appeal to the court, meaning the administration could continue to enforce the controversial policy while the case is decided.
Now the group representing asylum officers has told the court to side with the American Civil Liberties Union and block the policy for several reasons, including what they describe as inadequate safeguards in protecting those who are fearful of persecution in Mexico, clogging an already backed-up immigration system, and perhaps most crucially, placing asylum-seekers in a country that is “simply not safe” for Central American immigrants.
Asylum officers are on the front line of the policy, and have been charged with enforcing it since January.
“Asylum officers are duty bound to protect vulnerable asylum seekers from persecution,” the group said. “However, under the MPP, they face a conflict between the directives of their departmental leaders to follow the MPP and adherence to our Nation’s legal commitment to not returning the persecuted to a territory where they will face persecution.”
Union leaders previously spoke with Vox about their concerns regarding the policy.
In the filing Wednesday, the group of asylum officers told the court they “should not be forced to honor departmental directives that are fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our nation and our international and domestic legal obligations.”