Report updated 5:15 a.m., July 25, 2019.
A U.S. federal judge has blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a directive that disqualifies a significant proportion of mostly Central American asylum-seekers who reach the U.S.-Mexico border.
Judge Jon Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California cited multiple concerns about the rule and the way it was issued in his ruling Wednesday.
He said the rule does not provide congressionally mandated protections ensuring that any asylum-seeker the United States removes to a so-called third country, most often Mexico in current cases, would be safe there and have access to a fair asylum process.
“The government’s own administrative record contains no evidence that the Mexican asylum regime provides a full and fair procedure for determining asylum claims,” Tigar wrote. “Rather, it affirmatively demonstrates that asylum claimants removed to Mexico are likely to be exposed to violence and abuse from third parties and government officials, denied their rights under Mexican and international law, and wrongly returned to countries from which they fled persecution.”
The judge said the government failed to give people affected by the rule and those in the public an opportunity to submit their views before the rule went into effect last week. He noted the government’s argument that it did not need to allow such a review period because the rule involved U.S. foreign affairs, but Tigar rejected that reasoning on the grounds the government did not demonstrate public comments would lead to “undesirable international consequences.”
Trump administration officials have said the new rule is meant to ease the strain on the U.S. asylum system.
In a recent statement, U.S. Attorney General William Barr noted a “dramatic increase in the number of aliens” arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, adding that “[o]nly a small minority of these individuals” qualify for asylum.
Tigar’s ruling accepts the government’s assertion that “the strains on this country’s immigration system have only increased” since late last year.
“The public undoubtedly has a pressing interest in fairly and promptly addressing both the harms to asylum applicants and the administrative burdens imposed by the influx of persons seeking asylum,” Tigar wrote. But he said “shortcutting the law” is not the solution.
In response to the ruling, the Justice Department said Congress had granted the attorney general the authority to bar asylum-seekers on certain grounds.
“The district court was wrong to conclude otherwise, to second-guess the agencies’ expert policy judgment, and to halt this critical measure on a nationwide basis,” it said.
The nationwide preliminary injunction will remain in place while the case plays out in the courts, something Tigar wrote will “merely restore” the policy to what had been in place for many years and ensure “that we do not deliver aliens into the hands of their persecutors.”
The case came from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which all welcomed Wednesday’s ruling.
“The court correctly decided that decades of U.S. asylum law prevent this administration from attempting to deny wholesale, asylum protections through this arbitrary and hasty regulation,” said Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This application of the law will also save lives of vulnerable refugees fleeing for their lives and safety.”
Hours before Tigar issued his ruling, a district court judge in Washington, D.C., denied a similar request to block the rule in a separate case, saying “it’s in the greater public interest to allow the administration to carry out its immigration policy.”
The result of the two rulings is that the injunction issued in California is in place.
Judge Timothy Kelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said migrant advocacy groups Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and RAICES failed to show they would be immediately harmed by the rule. Both organizations argued the asylum rule would harm migrants fleeing dangerous situations.
The White House welcomed Kelly’s ruling as a “victory for Americans concerned” about the crisis at the southern border.
“The rule properly encourages migrants to seek asylum in other countries they have traveled through before reaching the United States and makes those who fail to do so ineligible for asylum, thereby foreclosing opportunistic claims by those who want to exploit our asylum system in an effort to immigrate unlawfully to the United States,” according to the statement.