A U.S. federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order preventing the Trump administration from carrying out new immigration rules that would block asylum status for people who did not enter the United States at a designated port of entry.
President Donald Trump issued the rule in a November 9 proclamation, saying it was necessary to deal with the expected arrival of thousands of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border who he said "appear to have no lawful basis for admission into our country."
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups quickly filed a legal challenge and sought an injunction against the new rules while the case makes its way through the courts.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar issued his ruling late Monday, saying Congress has "clearly commanded" through the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) that anyone who arrives in the United States may apply for asylum no matter where they entered, and that Trump's rule "irreconcilably conflicts with the INA and the expressed intent of Congress."
He barred the government from carrying out the new rule for one month, setting the next hearing in the case for December 19.
Tigar said if allowed to go into effect, the rule would put asylum seekers "at increased risk of violence and other harms at the border, and many will be deprived of meritorious asylum claims." He wrote that the government in its arguments "offers nothing in support of the new rule that outweighs the need to avoid these harms."
About 3,000 migrants have arrived in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, and more are expected to make there way there soon. They join what was already a large group waiting for their chance to seek asylum at the San Ysidro border crossing, the main port of entry to the U.S. city of San Diego.
U.S. authorities process about 100 asylum claims each day at San Ysidro, meaning wait times will be long.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection and some of the thousands of troops Trump ordered to the border last month briefly shut down lanes at the San Ysidro port on Monday to set up additional barriers with concrete and concertina wire.Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the measures were put in place after officials "were notified that a large number of caravan migrants were planning to rush the border in an attempt to gain illegal access to the U.S."
She further accused some of the migrants of "purposely causing disruptions at our border points of entry."
"There is a legal and illegal way to enter the U.S. We have deployed additional forces to protect our border. We will enforce all our laws," she said.
Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman and Department of Justice spokesman Steven Stafford said in a joint statement Tuesday the U.S. asylum system is bombarded with "tens of thousands of meritless claims every year."
"As the Supreme Court affirmed this summer, Congress has given the President broad authority to limit or even stop the entry of aliens into this country." The statement went onto say, " ... it is absurd that a set of advocacy groups can be found to have standing to sue to stop the entire federal government from acting so that illegal aliens can receive a government benefit to which they are not entitled."
Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a group that has been assisting the migrants, rejected Nielsen's statements and said the lane closures were aimed at stoking "fury and impatience" by blocking U.S. citizens who had to wait to gain entry from Tijuana.
"Sec. Nielsen's false comments about the Refugee Exodus are a deliberate attempt to mislead the public and demonize refugees fleeing government sponsored violence and displacement," the group said.
There have been protests by hundreds of people in Tijuana who directed chants of "get out" and "go home" at the migrants.
Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum is among those taking a hard stance. He posted Monday on Twitter, "Human rights come with human duties," and that migrants who do not respect citizens of Tijuana can expect to face the full weight of the law.
That echoes statements by Trump, who has called the Central Americans "criminals" and cast the caravans as an "invasion."
Trump tweeted Sunday that the United States is "ill-prepared for this invasion and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home."
But many of the migrants are puzzled by fears they are violent and criminals, saying they fled Honduras in hopes of asylum in the United States to escape violence and gangs.
Al Otro Lado, one of the groups that joined in filing the lawsuit against Trump's asylum proclamation, said the only ones protesting the migrants in Tijuana "are the anti-immigrant crowd, some of whom came down from the U.S."
The group said the migrants have been "waiting patiently" as they join the established line for who will get to seek asylum next.
"The exodus is not a security risk. It is a humanitarian crisis. We need food, blankets, diapers, etc., not border closures and barbed wire," it wrote on Twitter.