The US Supreme Court has given the go-ahead to Trump administration plans that severely limit the ability of migrants to claim asylum.
Under the rule, people arriving via a third country must claim asylum there first before arriving at the US border.
Legal challenges against it continue but the ruling means for now it can be enforced nationwide.
The plan will affect migrants from Central America who travel north, often on foot, through Mexico.
The Trump administration unveiled the new asylum policy in July but it was almost immediately blocked from taking effect by a lower court ruling by a judge in San Francisco.
There has been a legal tussle over his block since but the decision issued on Wednesday will temporarily delay his rulings and allow the policy to come into effect.
Curbing migration levels has been a key goal of Donald Trump’s presidency and forms a major part of his bid for re-election in 2020.
The change will affect non-Mexican migrants trying to enter through the US southern border.
This includes, but is not limited to, those from Central American countries who have made up the vast majority of those seeking asylum so far this year.
Of the 424,000 family members arrested on the south-western border up until August 2019 almost 419,831 were from Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua and only 4,312 were from Mexico, border patrol data show.
Many of those arriving the US are fleeing violence or poverty and travel north through Mexico until they reach the US border. Upon arrival, they must pass a “credible fear” interview to seek asylum in the US.
The rule change means they would fail had they not claimed asylum in another country they had first passed through.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the ruling, argued it drastically limited those eligible for asylum.
“The current ban would eliminate virtually all asylum at the southern border, even at ports of entry, for everyone except Mexicans,” it said in a petition.
A lawyer for the group described the ruling as a “temporary step” and said it remained confident at challenging the change.
“The lives of thousands of families are at stake,” Lee Gelerent said.
Anyone who has been rejected by a third country or is a victim of human trafficking can still apply.
Facing a surge in asylum claims by Central American and other migrants who have been crossing the southern US border in record numbers, the Trump administration has been desperate to clamp down.
In July the President announced new rules restricting asylum applications from migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
That move was immediately challenged in the lower courts, and it may come back to the Supreme Court once ongoing legal challenges have been completed.
But for now the president has something to celebrate – on Twitter he hailed the decision as a Big Win.
The rule change overturns long-standing convention that the US hears asylum claims no matter how people have arrived at the border.
On the nine-judge Supreme Court, liberal-leaning Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the ruling.
“Once again the Executive Branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.
The route to the US is dangerous, with Central American migrants often deliberately sought out by gangs in neighboring countries because they are vulnerable.
There are questions over whether Mexico and Guatemala can cope with a surge in asylum claimants.
Mexican officials, who have been working to crack down on migration, have already pushed back strongly against the plan.
Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard reiterated that Mexico would not become a “third country” for US-bound asylum seekers.
The Mexican president, Andres Manuel Labrador, earlier on Wednesday posted an image of himself on the phone to President Trump.
They are yet to publicly comment on the Supreme Court’s latest ruling – which is the second in favour of Mr Trump’s migration plans so far this year.
In July the nation’s top court ruled Mr Trump can use $2.5bn (£2bn) of Pentagon funds for his long-promised southern border wall. (BBC)