Trump's policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico has its day in court

EL PASO, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 01: Central American immigrants walk along the U.S.-Mexico border fence after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico on February 01, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. They later turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents, seeking political asylum in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(CNN)Attorneys in federal court on Friday argued that the relatively new policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico was dangerous, illegal and "hurting people."

This was the first court hearing to determine whether the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols program, informally known as "Remain in Mexico," is legal.
In February, a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups asked a federal judge for a restraining order that would block the Trump administration from forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases make their way through the immigration courts.
Eleven migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States and were returned to Mexico under the policy are also plaintiffs in the case. Some attended their first hearing in removal proceedings at the San Diego immigration court this week.
    This lawsuit seeks to block the policy, which a DHS official said was expanded to part of Texas earlier this week. Until then, returns had only taken place along the California border with Mexico.
    In court documents, the administration has argued that "the executive branch has broad discretionary authority" over whether to bring deportation proceedings against people unlawfully in the US and enacted this policy to "combat the serious problems at the southern border."
    Attorneys for the administration also asked the judge to move the case to the federal District Court of Southern California, which the judge did not seem inclined to do.
    "I really just don't think that there is one district that is more obvious than another with respect to this case," said Judge Richard Seeborg.
    Department of Justice spokesperson Steve Stafford declined to comment on the hearing.
    The immigration hearings underway so far have underscored outstanding issues with the new program, including the challenge of obtaining legal representation while in another country and providing notification of court dates to an individual without a fixed address.
    "While the Trump administration continues to double down on this policy by expanding its implementation, the irreparable harm it causes is clear," said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a statement. "Every moment it is in place, it jeopardizes the lives and well-being of vulnerable asylum seekers and makes it virtually impossible for them to present their cases in court. It is inhumane and unlawful."
    The Migrant Protection Protocols program was initially rolled out at the San Ysidro port of entry in January and has since expanded to other locations across the southern border. The Department of Homeland Security argues the program is among the many ways the administration is trying to address the spike of migrants arriving to the southern border.
      As of March 12, the US has returned 240 migrants to Mexico under these protocols.
      "Thank you for very interesting arguments and I will take the matter under consideration," said Seeborg, who did not indicate when he would rule.