US President Donald Trump’s plans to send asylum seekers back across the southern border to wait out the verdicts on their cases in Mexico was recently blocked, much to his dismay.
In fact, the ruling arrived as 19 migrants attended a court hearing on their fate in downtown San Diego.
The decision, made by US District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco, is the latest legal setback for the Trump administration on immigration policy, which was Trump’s promised immigration crackdown during his election campaign.
In a late night Tweet, Trump said: "A 9th circuit judge just ruled that Mexico is too dangerous for migrants. So unfair to the US. OUT OF CONTROL!"
The ruling does not go into effect until Friday and the White House said it would appeal, which could mean the final decision will drag on for months, perhaps extending through the 2020 presidential campaign, according to legal experts.
The administration has contended that the asylum seekers are pushing the immigration system to its limits.
Trump has stepped up pressure on Homeland Security to tackle the influx of migrants in what he described as an “invasion”.
On Sunday, US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw Trump’s immigration policies during her 16-month tenure, resigned amid a surge in the number of migrants at the border with Mexico.
A senior administration official said Trump had asked Nielsen to do so.
Two days after Nielsen’s resignation, a senior administration official said others at the department were not doing enough to enact Trump’s promised immigration crackdown and that the president might ask others to follow Nielsen.
Nielsen and Trump traveled to the US-Mexico border on Friday, two days before her departure, where Trump said: “our country is full”.
An even tougher stance
The president's visit came a day after he withdrew his nominee to lead US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Longtime border official Ron Vitiello appeared to be cruising toward confirmation, but Trump said Friday that he wanted to go in a "tougher direction".
Trump, who wants to return to illegal immigration as a key 2020 re-election issue, also took to Twitter earlier Friday to claim that he could revive his threat to shut the border, a move that fellow Republicans warned would have a devastating economic impact.
"If for any reason, Mexico stops apprehending and bringing the illegals back to where they came from, the US will be forced to tariff all cars made in Mexico and shipped over the border to us at a rate of 25 percent. If that doesn't work, which it will, I will close the border," Trump tweeted before invoking the new, but not-yet-approved trade policy.
Trump has pledged to build a security wall along America's border with Mexico in order to crack down on illegal immigration, a project that could cost as much as $20 billion, according to some estimates.
However, his attempt was prevented by Congress, causing the government to shut down for weeks in the US.
What happens to migrants Trump sent back to Mexico?
Neither the US government nor the more than 1,000 people awaiting asylum hearings in Tijuana and other border cities know what will happen next to families already returned to Mexico by the Trump administration.
The judge overseeing the hearing of the 19 migrants in San Diego did, indeed, ask what would happen to the families.
"I do not have an answer,” replied the lawyer, Kathryn Stuever.
But the hundreds of people now living in shelters, from tents inside warehouses to more established settings, are in legal limbo, a situation some say frightens them because they feel vulnerable to kidnappings, violence and falling victim to serious illness.
The migrants are from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua and 286 of them are children. Most do not have legal representation, according to immigration advocates.
Several reported robberies, violence or attempts to kidnap their children.
Their claims could not be verified independently, but those interviewed said they did not feel safe in Tijuana and were scared to leave the shelters housing them.