Judge orders halt to Trump asylum policy

April 8 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Monday issued an injunction halting the Trump administration's policy of sending some asylum seekers back across the southern border to wait out their deportation cases in Mexico.

The ruling is slated to take effect on Friday, according to the order by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco. The preliminary injunction will apply nationwide.

The ruling removes at least temporarily a controversial Trump administration strategy aimed at slowing a flood of immigrants, many of them families from Central America, that swelled last month to the highest level in a decade.

Because of limits on how long children are legally allowed to be held in detention, many of the families are released to await U.S. immigration court hearings, a process that can take years because of ballooning backlogs.

In response, the Trump administration in January started sending some migrants to wait out their U.S. court dates in Mexican border cities, under a policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP.

The Department of Homeland Security said last week that it planned to expand the program.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Seeborg said his ruling turned on the narrow question of whether the Trump administration had followed administrative law in implementing the policy.

"The legal question is not whether the MPP is a wise, intelligent, or humane policy, or whether it is the best approach for addressing the circumstances the executive branch contends constitute a crisis," wrote Seeborg.

The judge said the government shall permit the 11 plaintiffs in the case to enter the United States beginning on Sunday. He said the government still retained the right to detain the asylum-seekers pending the outcome of their case.

MPP was rolled out in January. The government argued it was needed because so many asylum seekers spend years living in the United States and never appear for their court hearings before their claim is denied and an immigration judge orders them to be deported.

23 PHOTOS
Reunited family fights for asylum
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Reunited family fights for asylum
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, spends the afternoon at the mall with mother Maria Marroquin Perdomo and father Edward Montes Lopez in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo waits for toenail polish to dry after getting a pedicure at a mall in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. Marroquin Perdomo said her toes were in bad shape following the arduous journey from Honduras to the Mexico-U.S. border and her time spent in detention. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, and his parents Edward Montes Lopez and Maria Marroquin Perdomo return to the apartment Montes Lopez shares with other family members in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. The apartment was overcrowded when Montes Marroquin and Marroquin Perdomo arrived, so Montes Lopez began talking of finding an apartment for the three of them. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo gets a pedicure at a mall in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. Marroquin Perdomo said her toes were in bad shape following the arduous journey from Honduras to the Mexico-U.S. border and her time spent in detention. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, sits with his father Edward Montes Lopez and mother Maria Marroquin Perdomo while video-chatting with family back in Honduras on their first night together in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai look for their gate before flying to New Orleans, Louisiana, at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, U.S., July 15, 2018. It was the first time either had ever been on an airplane. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, meets his father, Edward Montes Lopez, for the first time at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 15, 2018. Montes Lopez hadn't seen his son since he was an infant. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, helps his mother Maria Marroquin Perdomo set up her new cell phone while at a mall in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, arrives at La Posada Providencia shelter shortly after being reunified with his mother in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, runs toward his father, Edward Montes Lopez, as he meets him for the first time at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 15, 2018. Montes Lopez hadn't seen his son since he was an infant. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai travel to New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., from Harlingen, Texas, U.S., July 15, 2018. It was the first time either had ever been on an airplane. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and 11-year-old son Abisai sit at their gate before flying to New Orleans, Louisiana, at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, U.S., July 15, 2018. It was the first time either had ever been on an airplane. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, plays after arriving at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. The boy was reunified with his mother hours earlier. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, looks at messages and drawings made for him by his mother and the fellow mothers she befriended while the women were detained at the Port Isabel detention center, before bed at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. The boy was reunified with his mother hours earlier. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
After being reunified with her 11-year-old son, Maria Marroquin Perdomo cries during a phone call with the boy's father in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai arrive at La Posada Providencia shelter with the help of immigration attorney Jodi Goodwin, in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai stop at a gas station for a snack after departing the Casa Padre facility, where the two were reunified, in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. Marroquin Perdomo's attorney drove the pair from the gas station to La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., to spend their first night together. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai drive away from the Casa Padre facility in the backseat of her attorney's truck minutes after mother and son were reunified, in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. Abisai was held at Casa Padre while his mother was detained at the Port Isabel detention facility. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Maria Marroquin Perdomo reacts to the news that her detained son had been cleared for release, at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. Marroquin Perdomo headed to the facility holding him minutes later with her attorney for their reunification. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo passes the time before a hopeful reunification with her detained son while staying at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo is driven by a local volunteer from the Port Isabel detention center near Los Fresnos, Texas, U.S., to La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 13, 2018. She is clutching release paperwork including information regarding the location of her detained son. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai drive away from the Casa Padre facility in the backseat of her attorney's truck minutes after mother and son were reunified in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. Abisai was held at Casa Padre while his mother was detained at the Port Isabel detention facility. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo gets settled with the help of Sister Margaret Mertens at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., shortly after her release from the Port Isabel detention center, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
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MPP was based on a decades-old law that says migrants who enter from a contiguous country can be returned there to wait out their deportation case, although the provision had never been used in the way the administration has applied it.

Civil rights groups sued, arguing the policy violated U.S. and international law by returning refugees to dangerous border towns where they would be unable to get legal counsel or notices of hearings.

The plaintiffs include legal service organizations and migrants who fled Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to escape what they said was extreme violence, rape and death threats.

Apprehensions by border agents were on track to top 100,000 in March, the highest level in a decade, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

While illegal border crossings were higher in the early 2000s, most of those apprehended at that time were single men, often from Mexico. (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware Editing by Leslie Adler and Sonya Hepinstall)

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