January 18, 2021 at 4:14 pm PST | by Staff reports
Federal Judge blocks attempt to circumvent court order protecting asylum seekers
James M. Carter & Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse, San Diego, CA
(Photo Credit: GSA- U.S. Government)

SAN DIEGO – U. S. District Court Judge Cynthia Ann Bashant issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) Monday, blocking the Trump administration’s latest attempt to prevent asylum seekers from accessing the U.S. asylum process.

The order blocks a rule, issued in December and set to take effect on January 19, that sought to circumvent an earlier court order prohibiting the government from applying an asylum ban to certain people forced to wait in Mexico because U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) artificially limited the number of asylum seekers who could enter the United States at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Oral argument concerning further court actions has been scheduled for February 3, 2021. 

In her ruling, Bashant wrote;

“It is at least questionable, if not altogether doubtful, that Defendants can redefine statutory terms in a regulation in direct contradiction to the Court’s plain language interpretation, especially when their intention in doing so is to evade the import of the Court’s previous rulings.”

Immigrant rights groups have challenged as unlawful the Trump administration’s practice of “metering”—artificially limiting the processing capacity at ports of entry and illegally making asylum seekers  wait in Mexico before they are permitted to access the U.S. asylum process. While thousands of asylum seekers waited in Mexico, the Trump administration issued additional rules limiting access to asylum, including the first iteration of the rule blocked by the court today. 

“The Trump administration has made numerous efforts to destroy the U.S. asylum system, including the Asylum Ban addressed by this order. Many refugees suffered egregious harm in Mexico after CBP officers turned them away from U.S. ports of entry; application of the Asylum Ban to these individuals would only have caused further harm by limiting their access to protection,” Said Erika Pinheiro, Litigation and Policy Director of Los Angeles based Al Otro Lado, which provides legal and humanitarian support to indigent refugees, deportees, and other migrants in the US and Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.

“We are hopeful that the Biden administration will roll back all of Trump’s anti-asylum policies, but the damage to the asylum system has been so profound that it will take time. We are grateful to the court for preserving the class members’ rights in the meantime,” Pinheiro added.

Advocates applauded the issuance of the TRO, praising it as protecting the rule of law, democratic institutions, and vulnerable migrants. They emphasize that President-elect Joe Biden must prioritize ending all of Trump’s relentless assaults on asylum seekers, including ending the process of metering.

 “Today’s decision upholds the protections for asylum seekers that the court granted over a year ago in response to the government’s attempt to deny asylum eligibility to those subjected to the government’s metering policy. The Trump administration tried to override the court’s well-reasoned decision through agency rulemaking, but, as the court showed today—that’s not how the law works,” said Karolina Walters, staff attorney at American Immigration Council.

Asylum seekers have been seriously harmed after CBP officials turned them back at ports of entry. Advocates say the policy has created a humanitarian crisis for those marooned on the Mexican side of the border and that migrants there are in serious danger of disappearances, kidnappings, rape, and sexual and labor exploitation.

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