Judge Says US Changes to Asylum Protections Broke the Law

Children and adults gathered around bags of donated toys and clothes in a makeshift camp where Central Americans wait for their asylum cases to be heard by the United States. (Bianca Bruno/CNS)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Drawing cheers Wednesday from the ACLU, the same judge who castigated Michael Flynn in open court as a national disgrace slammed efforts by the Trump administration to quickly deport immigrants seeking asylum. 

“This ruling is a defeat for the Trump administration’s all-out assault on the rights of asylum seekers,” Jennifer Chang Newell, managing attorney of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said this morning in a statement. “The government’s attempt to obliterate asylum protections is unlawful and inconsistent with our country’s longstanding commitment to provide protection to immigrants fleeing for their lives.”

A 107-page doorstopper, the ruling from U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan concludes that the United States broke the law in deporting asylum-seekers without determining whether they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country.

Such interviews are guaranteed by the Immigration and Nationality Act, and Sullivan found “no legal basis for an effective categorical ban” on such claims.

“Because it is the will of Congress — not the whims of the executive — that determines the standard for expedited removal, the court finds that those policies are unlawful,” Sullivan wrote.

The plaintiffs include women who sought U.S. asylum for themselves and their children after fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality in their home countries.

Before his post-election ouster last month, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the policy change in June, stating that the Justice Department would no longer accept claims of gang-related violence or gender-based sexual violence as reasons to seek asylum. 

Sullivan called out the move as arbitrary and capricious. 

“Credible fear determinations, like requests for asylum in general, must be resolved based on the particular facts and circumstances of each case,” he wrote. “The attorney general’s direction to deny most domestic violence or gang violence claims at the credible fear determination stage is fundamentally inconsistent with the threshold screening standard that Congress established: an alien’s removal may not be expedited if there is a ‘significant possibility’ that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum.”

Reacting to the ruling, Justice Department spokesman Steven Stafford defended the changes by Sessions as an attempt to enforce existing law. 

“Under the laws passed by Congress, asylum is only for those who have a legitimate fear of persecution on the basis of their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group,” Stafford said in a statement. 

Though the DOJ has not yet decided whether to appeal Sullivan’s ruling, Stafford said: “We will continue to restore the rule of law in our immigration system.”

Sullivan’s ruling this morning marks his second blow to the Trump administration in as many days. The judge dominated national headlines on Tuesday for his critical remarks against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Though Flynn had walked into court Tuesday with assurances that his cooperation with the Special Counsel’s Office would net him a sentence of probation for lying to the FBI, Sullivan told the former general that he found Flynn’s crimes beyond the pale.

“Arguably you sold your country out,” Sullivan told Flynn, reacting to court papers indicating that Flynn conspired against the United States as an illegal agent of the Turkish government.

Prior to the blockbuster hearing, Sullivan had been propped up by Trump supporters and Fox News hosts as “a judge who has a track record of calling out prosecutorial misconduct.”

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