Trump Plan to Bar Asylum Seekers Blocked by Federal Judge

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge halted the Trump administration’s latest attempt to seal the U.S. southern border by barring migrants from seeking asylum inside the country.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar approved the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for a temporary restraining order, preventing the government from restricting asylum applications to those made at official ports of entry. The judge’s order is likely to be appealed.

Justice Department attorneys argued in a San Francisco federal court on Nov. 19 that the policy isn’t intended to impede migrants from seeking asylum, but only to limit their access to specific ports of entry along the border. The waits for interviews with U.S. asylum officers may last as long as two months, with about 3,000 people currently in line, the New York Times reported Nov. 18.

The ACLU argued that President Donald Trump’s proclamation violated the Immigration and Nationality Act, which specifies that anyone inside the U.S. can seek asylum, if they apply within a year of entering the country. Their complaint also claims that most applicants either lack the knowledge necessary to locate an official point of entry, or are at risk of “life-threatening delays” at the official entry gates.

“The administration is trying to override what Congress has done,” argued Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s attorney representing plaintiffs. “Contrary to the narrative, these are not all criminals or cartel members coming here, these are families. This is a real humanitarian crisis.”

To read the ruling, click here

Tigar said the president overreached in issuing the directive.

“Whatever the scope of the president’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” Tigar wrote in the 37-page ruling.

The judge said the administration’s rule suggests the president has the power to make more aggressive proclamations in the future, including edicts that could threaten the entire U.S. asylum program.

“The rule itself actually gives the president the ability to issue even more restrictive proclamations” later, Tigar said. “The rule gives the president plenary authority to halt asylum claims entirely along the southern border.”

The Justice Department hinted at plans to appeal the decision, in a written statement from Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman and Justice Department spokesman Steven Stafford. They called the ACLU’s claim “absurd” while expressing frustration with the judge’s decision to “stop the entire federal government from acting so that illegal aliens can receive a government benefit to which they are not entitled.”

“Our asylum system is broken, and it is being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year," they said. “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,” referring to the top court’s ruling that upheld Trump’s travel ban on people from several, mostly Muslim, countries.

The case is East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Trump, 3:18-cv-06810, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco)

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