Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2018 / 04:22 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration’s new rules limiting asylum for undocumented immigrants was wrong, says a federal judge who ruled they can still claim asylum even if they do not cross the border at an official point of entry.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar said that President Donald Trump’s Nov. 9 proclamation violates immigration law that clearly makes such migrants eligible to seek 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,” said Tigar, who temporarily blocked President Trump’s proclamation from taking effect at least until a Dec. 19 hearing.
Tigar, a President Barack Obama nominee, said the ban on asylum “irreconcilably conflicts” with immigration laws and with the “expressed intent of Congress.” He said the ban would put potential asylum seekers at “increased risk of violence and other harms at the border.”
Trump administration leaders defended the proclamation, claiming it was “lawful and tailored” and aimed at “controlling immigration in the national interest.”
The order cited the same powers in a Trump administration travel ban that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“As the Supreme Court affirmed this summer, Congress has given the President broad authority to limit or even stop the entry of aliens into this country,” Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldeman and Department of Justice spokesman Steven Stafford said in a statement.
“Our asylum system is broken, and it is being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year,” they added, characterizing asylum as a “discretionary benefit” given by the executive branch only under certain legal conditions. They said they would continue to defend the executive branch’s “legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border.”
Trump’s order drew criticism from Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and other Catholic leaders. They made a Nov. 14 joint statement responding to the proclamation.
“While our teaching acknowledges the right of each nation to regulate its borders, we find this action deeply concerning,” they said. “It will restrict and slow access to protection for hundreds of children and families fleeing violence in Central America, potentially leaving them in unsafe conditions in Mexico or in indefinite detention situations at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
“We reiterate that it is not a crime to seek asylum and this right to seek refuge is codified in our laws and in our values,” said the Catholic leaders.
Bishop Vasquez was joined in the statement by Sister Donna Markham, O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network; and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.
The Catholic leaders urged the Trump administration to seek “other solutions that will strengthen the integrity of the existing immigration system, while assuring access to protection for vulnerable children and families.”
They said the Catholic Church will continue to “serve, accompany and assist” all those who flee persecution, “regardless of where they seek such protection and where they are from.”
President Trump’s order was part of a response to the several migrant caravans reported to be headed to the U.S. from Central America. It was intended to last for 90 days unless Mexico agrees to allow U.S. immigration officials to deport to Mexico those Central Americans who have entered the U.S. at the southern border.
“We need people in our country, but they have to come in legally,” he said Nov. 9
According to DHS estimates, about 70,000 people a year claim asylum after crossing the border without documentation.
Recently media attention and immigration restriction advocates have focused on caravans of refugees and immigrants, sometimes growing or shrinking as they progress towards the U.S. border on a journey that can be dangerous.
The latest caravan of about 3,000 people has arrived in Tijuana, across the U.S.-Mexico border from San Diego. U.S. Border and Custom Protection officials said they closed northbound traffic at the San Ysidro crossing for several hours on Monday to install movable barriers in response to reports that there was a plan to rush the crossing. There was no rush, the Associated Press reports.
On Nov. 9 President Trump had said that the situation of people crossing the southern border has changed in recent decades. About two decades ago, the average person caught crossing the southern border was a single adult who was immediately returned to Mexico, and did not try to claim asylum or express fear about going back to their country of origin.
He claimed there has been a “massive increase” in fear-of-persecution or torture claims. While the “vast majority” satisfy the first asylum step of appearing to have a credible fear, only a “fraction” are ruled to qualify for asylum.
There are about 1.1. million asylum cases pending in immigration courts, and about 20 percent of applications for asylum are approved, the Associated Press reports.
Other officials who defended the new policy have said it would encourage migrants to pass through official border crossings where their asylum claims can find a fast hearing. The border is close to 2,000 miles long.
Between the active date of President Trump’s order and the court ruling, DHS had referred over 100 people who had sought asylum without going to an official crossing to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The president has advocated revoking the right to citizenship of babies who are born in the U.S. to non-U.S. citizens. His family separation policy came under strong criticism and was changed.
His travel ban on foreigners from several predominantly Muslim countries was blocked in federal court before the U.S. Supreme Court let it stand.
Most of his immigration actions have come through regulatory change and presidential orders, rather than through new legislation passed by Congress.