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Supreme Court agrees to hear battles over Trump's border wall, "Remain in Mexico" policy

Trump and Biden's immigration policies
Trump and Biden's immigration policies 09:09

Washington — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up two legal battles involving President Trump's efforts to curb illegal immigration into the U.S., adding to its docket a case involving the president's attempt to redirect Pentagon money to fund construction of his long-promised border wall, and another appeal from the Trump administration regarding its policy requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico during their immigration proceedings.

The cases are expected to be heard by the Supreme Court in 2021, though a change in presidential administrations would likely end the challenges to the Trump administration's immigration initiatives, as Joe Biden could walk back the policies.

Mr. Trump made immigration a cornerstone of his first-term agenda and implemented a series of policies that sought to curb illegal immigration into the U.S. and make it more difficult for migrants crossing the southern border to gain access to the asylum system. But many of the Trump administration's efforts have been the subject of court challenges.

The first case came following failed attempts by the Trump administration to secure additional funding from Congress for construction of a border wall across the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2019, after Mr. Trump declared a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border,  the acting secretary of defense diverted $2.5 billion in military funds to pay for construction of more than 100 miles of barriers in California, New Mexico and Arizona.

A group of states and the Sierra Club challenged the Trump administration's attempt to redirect the Pentagon money without congressional approval, and lower courts blocked the efforts, finding the use of the money was unlawful and preventing the government from tapping into the $2.5 billion pot. But last year, the Supreme Court lifted the hold on use of the money, giving the green light for work on the barrier to proceed.

In June, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found Mr. Trump lacked the authority to transfer the $2.5 billion in military funds to build the barriers along the southern border.

The second case is a challenge to the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the "Remain in Mexico" policy. The policy requires Central American and other Spanish-speaking migrants seeking asylum along the southern border to stay in Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings. Those proceedings have been halted indefinitely due to the pandemic.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the new restrictions on asylum-seekers in December 2018 as part of efforts by the Trump administration to address a surge of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Since the Trump administration began enforcing the policy in January 2019, more than 60,000 migrants were returned to Mexico, according to a Justice Department filing with the Supreme Court. More than 22,000 cases remain pending. 

A group of 11 migrants who were returned to Mexico under the policy and six organizations challenged the rule in early 2019, and in February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court order that blocked enforcement of the policy. But in March, the Supreme Court lifted the freeze, allowing the Trump administration to continue sending asylum-seekers from Central America to Mexico while legal proceedings continued.

Justice Department spokesperson Alexa Vance said the department is "pleased" the Supreme Court is taking up the case.

"The Migrant Protection Protocols program — which is expressly authorized by a statute passed by a bipartisan Congress and signed into law during the Clinton Administration, but never used until the Trump Administration — has been a critical component of our efforts to manage the immigration crisis on our Southern Border," she said in a statement.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez contributed reporting.

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