US judge stalls enforcement of asylum restrictions

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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TEXAS, USA (AP) — A judge has ordered the US Government not to enforce a ban on asylum for people who cross the southern border illegally, another court setback for the Trump Administration's efforts to impose new immigration restrictions without congressional approval.

US District Judge Jon Tigar agreed Monday with legal groups that immediately sued after President Donald Trump issued a November 9 proclamation saying anyone who crossed the southern border between official ports of entry would be ineligible for asylum. The administration argued that caravans of migrants approaching the southern border made the new restrictions immediately necessary.

“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 Tigar, a nominee of former President Barack Obama.

Trump stopped family separations at the border earlier this year after a global outcry, but it was a federal judge who ruled the administration had to reunify the families. Another judge rejected the administration's request to try to detain migrant families in long-term facilities.

Monday's ruling remains in effect for one month, barring an appeal. In limiting asylum, Trump used the same powers he used to impose a travel ban — the third try was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.

A joint statement by Homeland Security and the Justice Department said the Supreme Court had already shown the president had the legal right to restrict asylum.

“Our asylum system is broken, and it is being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year,” the departments said. “We look forward to continuing to defend the Executive Branch's legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border.”

Whether asylum seekers would try now to enter between official ports of entry was unclear. One immigrant waiting at the official border crossing vowed to stay in line regardless of the ruling.

“I've always taken the correct path, and I'm not going to do something illegal now,” said Byron Torrez, 28, of Nicaragua.

Torrez said he fled Nicaragua after someone threw acid at him during a government protest. He said he did not travel with any of the caravans.

“I think it is good that the court did this because a lot of people cross illegally, not to break the law, but because they believe you have to get to the US first before requesting asylum,” he said.

The regulations were put in place in part to stop what the government says are loopholes that allow thousands of people to avoid deportation. DHS estimates around 70,000 people a year claim asylum after crossing illegally. But illegal crossings overall are well below historical highs from previous decades.

Tigar'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”.

“Individuals are entitled to asylum if they cross between ports of entry,” said Baher Azmy, a lawyer for the Centre for Constitutional Rights, which sued the government alongside the American Civil Liberties Union. “It couldn't be clearer.”

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