FILE - Members of the Border Patrol and U.S. military talk with migrants who illegally crossed the border between Mexico and the U.S. to request political asylum, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 6, 2019.
FILE - Members of the Border Patrol and U.S. military talk with migrants who illegally crossed the border between Mexico and the U.S. to request political asylum, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 6, 2019.

WASHINGTON - The White House on Thursday blasted a federal court action temporarily blocking 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.

"We intend to pursue all available options to address this meritless ruling and to defend this Nation's borders," the White House's press secretary said in a statement.

Late Wednesday, Judge Jon Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an injunction halting the administration's new asylum rule, saying it fails to ensure that asylum-seekers rejected by the United States and sent to a third country, most often Mexico, would be safe there and have access to a fair asylum process.

FILE - Migrant children sleep on the floor of a shelter in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, July 17, 2019.

"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 also criticized the administration for skipping a public commentary and review period before announcing the rule last week.

The injunction halts the rule while the legality of the administration's asylum directive is argued in pending court cases.

FILE - Migrants seeking asylum in the United States line up for a meal provided by volunteers near the international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, April 30, 2019.

White House reaction

In response, the White House statement noted that court challenges to the rule were brought by a civil liberties and immigrant advocacy groups — not by individuals directly affected by the asylum rule.

"Yesterday evening, a single district judge in California, based on a complaint filed by a few activist groups with no legal standing, issued a nationwide injunction against a lawful and necessary rule that discourages abuse of our asylum system," the statement said. "Congress authorized the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to establish categorical limitations on eligibility for asylum, and this rule properly used that authority to encourage migrants to seek asylum in other countries they have traveled through before reaching the United States."

The new rule mandated that the United States only consider asylum requests from petitioners who already were rejected for asylum in a country through which they traveled to reach America's southern border with Mexico.

Asylum law

Challenging the rule were 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."

Earlier Wednesday, in a separate case, another federal judge declined to block the rule, saying "it's in the greater public interest to allow the administration to carry out its immigration policy."

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.