By Tom Hals
WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) - The Trump administration rushed to save its program of sending asylum seekers back to Mexico by filing an emergency motion with a U.S. Court of Appeals, asking it to block an injunction that is set to shut down the policy on Friday afternoon.
The government told the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco the United States faced "a humanitarian and security crisis" at the southern border and needed immediate intervention to deal with surging number of refugees.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg ruled the policy was contrary to U.S. immigration law. He issued a nationwide injunction blocking the program and ordered it to take effect at 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT).
Melissa Crow, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that brought the case, said the stay should be denied to prevent irreparable harm to asylum seekers who could be unlawfully forced to return to Mexico.
Since January, the administration has sent more than 1,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Central America, back to Mexico to wait the months or years it can take to process claims through an overloaded immigration system.
Seeborg's ruling also ordered the 11 plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit to be brought back to the United States.
Although it is appealing and the lower court order had yet to take effect, Reuters reporters confirmed that the Trump administration was allowing some asylum seekers from Mexico to return to the United States.
President Donald Trump has bristled at limits on his administration's ability to detain asylum seekers while they fight deportation, and the administration was in the midst of expanding the program when Seeborg blocked it.
The government's filing on Thursday night with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked for two stays: a brief administrative stay, which would remain in place until the parties had argued the issue of a longer stay that would block the injunction during the months-long appeals process.
Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who worked on the case, said there did not appear to be any justification for the request for the administrative stay since asylum seekers were already returning to the United States.
"There's no urgency," she said. "They are already complying with the court order."
The 9th Circuit Court has been a frequent target for Trump's criticisms of the judicial system, which has blocked his immigration policies on numerous occasions.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Tom Brown)