SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Dealing a major setback to President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda, a federal judge on Monday ordered the U.S. government to start accepting asylum applications regardless of where immigrants enter the country.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar found the president overstepped his authority when he issued a Nov. 9 proclamation that limits asylum eligibility to those who enter the country at official ports of entry.
“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 a 35-page ruling issued late Monday night.
The Trump administration had argued the asylum restrictions were necessary to deter a wave of Central American migrants headed for the southern border, and that the new rules would aid the U.S. in negotiations with Mexico and other countries to address mass migration.
In an emailed statement, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security said the asylum system is being abused by “tens of thousands of meritless claims” each year, and that the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling in favor of Trump’s travel ban affirms the president’s “broad authority to limit or even stop the entry of aliens into this country.”
Immigrants fleeing persecution based on their race, religion, politics, nationality, or membership in a particular group can remain in the U.S. while their asylum applications are pending, which often takes months or years.
A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups who sued to stop the new rule says it endangers the lives of refugees and children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. The plaintiffs cited a long waitlist to apply for asylum at official entry points due to government-imposed restrictions and reports that Mexican authorities are preventing unaccompanied minors from approaching official border crossings.
Tigar found that evidence compelling, and concluded asylum seekers would suffer irreparable harm if they could not apply for refugee status and were funneled directly into expedited deportation proceedings.
“The rule, when combined with the enforced limits on processing claims at ports of entry, leaves those individuals to choose between violence at the border, violence at home, or giving up a pathway to refugee status,” Tigar wrote.
The judge also found that because the rule is “unconstitutional on its face,” a nationwide scope for the temporary restraining order is justified.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who argued the case in court Monday morning, said in a statement that the asylum ban is illegal, endangers lives, and “raises the alarm about President Trump’s disregard for separation of powers.”
“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,” Gelernt said.
The Trump administration strongly disagreed with Tigar’s finding that immigrant advocacy groups have standing to sue.
“It is absurd that a set of advocacy groups can be found to have standing to sue to stop the entire federal government from acting so that illegal aliens can receive a government benefit to which they are not entitled,” the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security said in a joint statement.
Tigar found four groups that help immigrants apply for asylum have standing to sue because the asylum restriction poses a “genuine obstacle” to their clients’ ability to assert their own rights.
Asylum seekers whose applications get denied because of the new rule would likely be unable to have their case reviewed by a federal judge due to judicial review restrictions on expedited removal cases, Tigar concluded.
“If the immigration organizations are not permitted to raise their clients’ rights, their clients may never have the chance to do so,” Tigar wrote.
The restraining order will remain in effect until Dec. 19, when Tigar will hold a hearing on an order to show cause why he should not issue a preliminary injunction that will continue to block the new asylum restrictions.