CNA Staff, Oct 20, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which some asylum applicants have to wait outside the United States while their applications are considered. The policy is opposed by the U.S. bishops’ conference.
On Monday, the court agreed to hear the case of Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab, a challenge to the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, implemented in January of 2019. The policy requires non-Mexican immigrants seeking asylum at the San Ysidro border crossing to remain in Mexico while their cases were processed by an immigration judge.
The “Remain in Mexico” policy has since been expanded to include entries across the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
Asylum seekers receive a notice to appear in immigration court and may re-enter the U.S. for that court date; to stay in the U.S., they must prove a fear of persecution or torture in Mexico.
The policy does not apply to all asylum-seekers: unaccompanied minors and those with known physical or mental health problems are exempt, among others.
The chair of the U.S. bishops’ immigration committee has opposed the policy, along with the president of Catholic Relief Services (CRS); in a joint statement in May of 2019, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, and Sean Callahan of CRS said the policy “needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols.”
Both a federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the federal government in the case, with the Ninth Circuit noting that the Department of Homeland Security drafted the rule “without notice-and-comment rulemaking.”
The court also ruled that the plaintiffs bringing the lawsuit had a “likelihood of success” in their claim that the policy is “inconsistent” with immigration law.
Bishop Vasquez and Callahan stated in 2019 that the “recent efforts to curtail and deter the right” to seek asylum were “deeply troubling.”
“We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” they stated.
The court on Monday also agreed to take up a border wall case brought by the Sierra Club; the Ninth Circuit court ruled against the Trump administration’s diversion of Department of Defense funds to go for construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
In February of 2019, Congress reached a compromise on a spending bill that appropriated more than $1 billion for the border wall but included a clause prohibiting any construction on certain sites near the border—a protection that included the historic La Lomita Chapel owned by the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.
However, President Trump then declared a national emergency to divert more Defense funds toward the construction of a wall, funds that were technically not subject to the clause enacted by Congress protecting certain properties. In February of 2020, he extended the emergency declaration for another year.
Catholics in the diocese and at the USCCB have been concerned that the chapel could be demolished or cut off if its property was used for the border wall construction.
The USCCB also opposed that executive action by President Trump in February of 2019, saying that it “circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall.”
“The wall first and foremost is a symbol of division and animosity between two friendly countries,” they stated. “We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls.”