U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant’s ruling has no immediate impact but could prevent the government from limiting entry for asylum-seekers because it says it lacks resources. It could also bring relief to some of the tens of thousands of people who put their names on unofficial waiting lists in Mexican border towns.
Waiting lists continue to grow. They had more than 18,600 names in eight Mexican border cities in May, more than half in Tijuana, according to a report by the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. Waiting lists peaked at nearly 27,000 names in August 2019.
The judge found in a 45-page ruling that the practice violated constitutional rights to due process under the law and a federal law requiring officials to screen anyone who shows up seeking asylum.
The judge, ruling in a lawsuit filed nearly four years ago, unequivocally backed criticisms that U.S. officials did not monitor the waiting lists, which were subject to fraud and corruption, and that asylum-seekers were exposed to grave physical danger while waiting in Mexico. Those who sued the government felt vindicated.
“The Court properly recognized the extensive human costs of metering, including the high risk of assault, disappearance, and death, when Customs and Border Protection officers flout their duty to inspect and process asylum seekers and force them to wait in Mexico,” said Melissa Crow, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Metering was one of the Trump administration’s main responses to the United States becoming the world’s top destination for asylum-seekers. Officials said migrants weren’t being denied rights to seek asylum, just being forced to wait until there were resources to process their claims.
In Piedras Negras, Mexico, a restaurant owner managed the waiting list for those wanting to seek asylum at the crossing to Eagle Pass, Texas. In Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, a migrant shelter registered asylum-seekers by writing numbers on their arms in black ink and later by giving them wristbands. In San Luis Colorado, on the Arizona border, a migrant managed the list and appointed a successor when their turn came to claim asylum in the United States.
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