Judge allows Trump administration’s most restrictive asylum ban to continue

WASHINGTON, DC (CBS) — A federal judge on Wednesday declined to block a new rule that effectively bars most migrants from Central America and other countries from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. The decision allows the Trump administration to implement for now its most ambitious effort yet to unilaterally overhaul the asylum system.

Judge Timothy Kelly of the U.S. District Court in Washington denied a request by several immigrant advocacy groups to issue an temporary order blocking the controversial asylum policy.

The so-called “interim final rule,” which went into effect last week, restricts access to the U.S. asylum system for non-Mexican migrants who traveled through Mexico and other countries to reach the southwestern border, but did not seek protection in those nations. Although designed to stem the flow of Central American migrants journeying north, the regulation also affects people from other parts of the world trying to reach the U.S. through Mexico — including Cubans, Venezuelans, Brazilians and central Africans, who have traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border in higher numbers this year.

Migrants who could prove they were victims of a “severe” form human trafficking or that they applied for protection in a third country and were later denied would be exempt from the rule.

The joint regulation by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security represents a seismic change in the asylum system for border crossers. Before the rule, migrants who crossed into the U.S. illegally were allowed to claim asylum after being apprehended by Border Patrol officers. Most asylum-seeking families were typically released from immigration custody after less than 20 days in detention and allowed to remain in the U.S. while their cases were adjudicated.

Soon after it took effect, two lawsuits, including one spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), were filed to block the policy. The plaintiffs argued that the regulation was devised contrary to federal rule-making procedures and violated the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which allows most who set foot on American soil to seek asylum if they fear persecution in their homeland.

The lawsuit filed in Washington was brought by a group of advocacy groups, including the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).

Judge Jon Tigar, who is reviewing the second lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Wednesday afternoon. Late last year, Tigar halted a similar effort by the administration to prohibit migrants who cross the border illegally from being able to seek asylum.

The complaint filed by the ACLU and other groups in San Francisco said the new rule violated that core provision in U.S. law. The plaintiffs also noted that Congress, under the the INA, stipulated that the government could deport asylum seekers to a third country to seek safe haven only if the U.S. and said nation were part of a bilateral or multilateral agreement.

“The Rule is a part of an unlawful effort to significantly undermine, if not virtually repeal, the U.S. asylum system at the southern border, and cruelly closes our doors to refugees fleeing persecution, forcing them to return to harm,” the petition read.

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