SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in San Francisco has temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s new policy that bars asylum for those who cross into the country without authorization, the latest in a long line of legal defeats for the administration in its attempts to restrict immigration.
Judge Jon Tigar ruled Monday evening that the administration’s policy “irreconcilably conflicts with” the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that anyone in the United States can apply for asylum, regardless of whether they arrived at a port of entry, and the “expressed intent” of Congress.
“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 in a ruling that blocked the policy for one month.
Tigar’s ruling comes just 12 hours after he heard arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union, which requested the order, and the Department of Justice, which maintained that the policy was necessary because a crush of asylum-seekers on the southern border had created a crisis. Tigar, who was appointed by former president Barack Obama, explained in his ruling that asylum-seekers would be at an “increased risk of violence and other harms at the border, and many will be deprived of meritorious asylum claims.”
The government’s claims in support of the expansive policy, he said, did not outweigh “the need to avoid these harms.”
The lawsuit against the policy is just the latest in a string of legal challenges to the Trump administration’s efforts to reshape the immigration system that began just days after Trump’s inauguration when he attempted to bar citizens from Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. That executive order was blocked by a number of federal judges and was revised twice before the Supreme Court finally allowed it to go into effect.
Tigar raised a number of questions during Monday’s hearing about the reasons the administration has offered for the new policy. He asked whether the new restriction on where asylum-seekers must cross the border undermined the Immigration and Nationality Act, which sets the conditions for asylum. He also questioned whether the underlying evidence supported the need for such a policy, and wondered whether the policy would affect negotiations with Mexico over allowing individuals to gain asylum there.
The lawsuit stems from a proclamation signed by Trump on Nov. 9 that limited granting asylum only to people who present themselves at a port of entry, as opposed to crossing into the United States anywhere along the Mexican border and then seeking asylum from any Border Patrol agent they encountered. The order directed administration officials to recommend within 90 days whether the policy should continue.
The parties will next meet in federal court in San Francisco on Dec. 19 as the judge decides whether to block the rule for a longer period of time with a preliminary injunction.
"This ban is illegal, will put people’s lives in danger, and raises the alarm about President Trump’s disregard for separation of powers," said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU who argued the case in court on Monday. "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. Congress has been clear on this point for decades."