By a vote of 7-2, the justices said the administration can enforce a rule announced in July requiring migrants to first seek asylum in the country through which they traveled to get to the United States, commonly referred by USA officials as "a third country".
The justices put on hold an injunction from lower courts in California that halted the new rule pending additional legal action; there, a district judge had said it probably ran afoul of a federal statute and administrative law.
"Once again the executive branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution", wrote Justice Sotomayor in the dissent. (Such an agreement exists with Canada, but not with Mexico.) "The current ban would eliminate virtually all asylum at the southern border, even at ports of entry, for everyone except Mexicans (who do not need to transit through a third country to reach the United States)", the A.C.L.U. noted in a statement.
Solicitor Common Noel Francisco argued Wednesday that the asylum rule - which is supposed to bar immigrants from getting into the nation with out looking for safety from the U.S. or nations they journey by - was supposed to maintain out individuals "who declined to request protection at the first opportunity".
Wednesday's order is a major victory for the administration, which argued the rule was necessary to screen out "asylum seekers who declined to request protection at the first opportunity".
In the administration's request to fully enforce the rule, US Solicitor General Noel Francisco asked the Supreme Court to issue a stay blocking the injunction while litigation over the issue proceeds because the judge's order interferes with the government's authority to establish immigration policy.
That left the administration able to carry out the new restrictions only in Texas and New Mexico.
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Under the rule, people arriving via a third country must claim asylum there first before arriving at the USA border.
The court announced on Wednesday evening it would allow the enforcement of the new rules, pending government appeal of two decisions in the 9th Circuit Court.
President Donald Trump has already drastically re-shaped the ideological makeup of the Ninth Circuit by appointing seven conservative judges to the court's ranks.
Facing a surge in asylum claims by Central American and other migrants who have been crossing the southern United States border in record numbers, the Trump administration has been desperate to clamp down.
Asylum-seekers are using the old initial screening rules as a loophole that gets them released into the interior where the vast majority are never seen by the government again unless they're caught committing other crimes. Under the new policy, they would fail the test unless they sought asylum in at least one country they traveled through and were denied. "The lives of thousands of families are at stake".