WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge in Washington struck down a Trump administration rule Friday that made people who entered the United States by crossing the U.S.-Mexico border outside a port of entry ineligible for asylum.
“The rule’s direction that ‘an alien shall be ineligible for asylum’ if the alien entered the United States outside a designated port of entry is not ‘compatible’ with the congressional mandate that all aliens present in the United States may ‘apply’ for asylum, regardless of whether they entered the United States at a designated port of entry,” U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss wrote in a 77-page opinion Friday.
The ruling comes in a set of cases from 19 people who crossed the border between legal ports of entry after the rule went into effect. The group of people was joined by two immigrant organizations – the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
In a phone interview, plaintiff attorney Ana Reyes of Williams and Connolly called the ruling a “huge win for refugees.”
“The ruling is a victory for refugees who want to live safely with their families,” said Reyes. “We’re grateful that the court carefully considered all the issues and issued a detailed, as you’ve seen, 77-page opinion.”
Through the simultaneous issuance of a final rule at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security and a proclamation from President Donald Trump, the administration issued a rule this past November that categorically made people who entered the United States across the southern border in a place other than a legal port of entry ineligible for asylum.
The plaintiffs asked for summary judgment in the case after Moss declined to enter an injunction because a court in California had already done so. The Trump administration also asked for summary judgment in the case, arguing the plaintiffs had not met the threshold legal requirements to bring the challenge.
Moss first found that nothing in federal immigration law bars the people and groups from having their claims heard in federal court and that they met the requirements for standing, the basic legal hurdle any plaintiff must clear.
Moss, a Barack Obama appointee, then found the administration’s rule could not stand based on a set of provisions Congress added to the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1996.
The first of those provisions states that any migrant who arrives in the United States “whether or not at a designated port of arrival” is allowed to apply for asylum. The second gives the attorney general authority to issue “limitations and conditions” on asylum that are “consistent” with the first provision.
Moss found the rule the administration put forward clearly inconsistent with that first provision’s grant of the ability to seek asylum irrespective of where a refugee crossed the border.
In order to save the rule, the Trump administration argued the rule does not bar people from applying for asylum, it only makes them ineligible to receive it. Moss dispensed with this argument, calling it a distinction without much of a difference.
“As a matter of common usage, no one would draw a meaningful distinction, for example, between a rule providing that children may not apply for a driver’s license and one providing that children are not eligible to receive a driver’s license,” Moss wrote. “Both locutions mean the same thing.”
The ruling is the second blow to the Trump administration’s asylum rule, following the California court’s preliminary injunction this past December. That case, brought by a group of nonprofits, is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s ruling.