A federal district judge overnight blocked a presidential proclamation barring people who enter the United States between ports of entry from seeking asylum, calling the administration’s arguments that federal law could accommodate the policy “unpersuasive.”
“The rule barring asylum for immigrants who enter the country outside a port of entry irreconcilably conflicts with the [Immigration and Naturalization Act] and the expressed intent of Congress,” wrote U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar, pointing to a federal law stipulating that “any alien who is physically present in the United States, or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival…), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum.”
“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 concluded in a decision released early Tuesday morning. “Defendants’ claims that the rule can somehow be harmonized with the INA are not persuasive.”
The ruling, which includes a temporary restraining order prohibiting the federal government from automatically disqualifying any asylum-seeker who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally from seeking the right of asylum, is a victory for immigrants-rights and civil liberties groups, which had called President Donald Trump’s proclamation both illegal and “a great moral failure.”
“This ban is illegal, will put people’s lives in danger, and raises the alarm about President Trump’s disregard for separation of powers,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the case. “There is no justifiable reason to flatly deny people the right to apply for asylum, and we cannot send them back to danger based on the manner of their entry. Congress has been clear on this point for decades.”
In a fiery statement in response to the temporary injunctive relief, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Katie Waldman and Justice Department spokesperson Steven Stafford called the judge’s ruling “absurd.”
“Our asylum system is broken, and it is being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year,” their joint statement 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.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the judge’s decision.
The suit, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Trump, was filed jointly by the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights and seeks to permanently prevent Trump’s proclamation from going into effect, calling it a violation of the Constitution’s right to due process, and a “direct violation of Congress’s clear command that manner of entry cannot constitute a categorical asylum bar.”
“This is a critical step in fighting back against President Trump’s war on asylum seekers,” said Melissa Crow, a senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “These practices are clearly unlawful and cannot stand.”
The proclamation in question, signed by President Trump on November 9, was issued in response to what the administration has characterized as a rise in false asylum claims made by migrants fleeing Central America. At the time, knowledgeable sources, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, told The Daily Beast that the proclamation was penned by White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the author of each draft of Trump’s three attempted travel bans. One of those sources told The Daily Beast that Miller had worked on concert with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in hopes of dodging the same legal challenges that befell those bans.
Judging by Tigar’s criticism of the proclamation both in his ruling and in his courtroom, that strategy didn’t work.
“Asylum seekers will be put at increased risk of violence and other harms at the border, and many will be deprived of meritorious asylum claims,” wrote Tigar, an Obama appointee. “The government offers nothing in support of the new rule that outweighs the need to avoid these harms.”
The case will next be heard on December 19, when Tigar will rule on whether the restraining order blocking the proclamation can be extended.