U.S. Judge Blocks Trump Asylum Restrictions
HOUSTON — November 20, 2018
A federal judge has barred the Trump administration from refusing asylum to immigrants who cross the southern border illegally.
On November 9, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation prohibiting asylum applications to immigrants who crossed the southern border between official ports of entry. According to the presidential proclamation, the limitation could be extended until the signing of an agreement with Mexico that allows the U.S. to directly deport immigrants who cross illegally.
Trump's order was strongly criticized by human rights groups, as they considered it violated U.S. immigration laws.
San Francisco District Judge Jon Tiger agreed on Monday with legal groups that immediately sued, arguing that U.S. immigration law clearly allows someone to seek asylum even if they enter the country between official ports of entry. The order went into effect immediately and will last at least until December 19, local media reported.
"Whatever the scope of the President's authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden," said Tiger, an Obama nominee.
Judge Tiger's decision comes as thousands of Central Americans, including hundreds of children, are traveling by caravan to the United States border to escape violence in their countries and some have already arrived in the Mexican city of Tijuana, bordering California.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately comment on the ruling, which will remain in effect for one month barring an appeal. In issuing the ban, Trump used the same powers he used last year to impose a travel ban that was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.
If enforced, the ban would potentially make it harder for thousands of people to avoid deportation. DHS estimates around 70,000 people a year claim asylum between official ports of entry. But Tiger's ruling notes that federal law says someone may seek asylum if they have arrived in the United States, "whether or not at a designated port of arrival."
Around 3,000 people from the first of the caravans have arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Diego, California. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Monday that it closed off northbound traffic for several hours at the San Ysidro crossing. It has also installed movable, wire-topped barriers, apparently to stop a potential mass rush of people.
Since the entry into force of the presidential decree and until Monday, 107 people detained between the ports of entry requested asylum, said DHS, which is in charge of the Customs and Border Protection Office. Officials didn't say whether those people's cases were still progressing through other, more difficult avenues left to them after the proclamation.
DHS has said it wants asylum seekers at the southern border to appear at an official border crossing. But many of them, like San Ysidro, already have a long waiting time. Usually, people are forced to wait, even weeks, in shelters or outdoor camps on the Mexican side.
ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said that some people seeking asylum cross between official ports because "they're in real danger," either in their countries of origin or in Mexico.
"We don't condone people entering between ports of entry, but Congress has made the decision that if they do, they still need to be allowed to apply for asylum," he said.