PHOENIX – A U.S. judge on Friday blocked the most extensive set of restrictions on the Trump administration’s asylum less than two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The rules were set to take effect on Monday. The court order has limited immediate impact, as the government largely suspended asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border during the coronavirus pandemic, citing public health concerns.
However, the entry into force of the rules would be felt by some who can still apply for asylum and make it very difficult for all asylum seekers once the pandemic measures have been lifted.
The administration of President Donald Trump has argued that the measures are an appropriate response to a system full of abuse and overwhelmed with unworthy claims.
They tried to redefine how people qualify for asylum and similar forms of humanitarian protection if faced with persecution at home. Restrictions would broaden a judge̵
U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco sided with advocacy groups that said acting National Security Secretary Chad Wolfe had no authority to impose extensive rules.
Donato, who was appointed to the bench in 2013 by President Barack Obama, wrote that Wolf’s appointment violated the established order of succession. He said for the fifth time, the court ruled against National Security on the same grounds.
“The government recycles exactly the same legal and factual claims brought in previous cases, as if they had not been categorically rejected in well-founded opinions by several courts,” Donato wrote. “It’s a disturbing judicial strategy. In fact, the government continues to push the same car into the gate, hoping to break it one day. “
Donato said his decision was being implemented across the country, as limiting its scope “would lead to a fragmented and fragmented immigration patch”.
It was not immediately clear whether the Trump administration would make an urgent appeal. The Ministry of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday.
Aaron Frankel, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, called the rules “no less than an attempt to end the asylum system”.
Asylum is a legal protection intended for people fleeing persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a social group. Every foreigner who set foot on American soil has the legal right to apply for asylum under US asylum law and international treaty obligations.
The rules will limit the types of harassment and the severity of threats for which asylum is granted. Applicants seeking gender-based protection, or those who claim to have been the target of gangs, ‘crooks’ of government officials or ‘non-governmental organizations’, are unlikely to be eligible for asylum.
Immigration judges will be directed to be more selective in applying for asylum and to allow them to reject most applications without a court hearing.
They would also consider several new factors against the applicant’s ability to win protections, including tax evasion. Criminal records would still be reported against asylum seekers, even if their sentences were overturned.
According to the pandemic measures in force since March, about nine out of every 10 people stopped at the border are immediately expelled on the grounds of public health. The rest are processed under immigration laws, which include the right to seek asylum.
Donato disputed how people came to run the Homeland Security. Wolfe became acting secretary in November 2019, replacing Kevin McAlinan, who also played an actor. The courts ruled that Wolf had incorrectly moved to the top of his position as Undersecretary for Strategy, Policy and Plans.
Donato, like other judges, said McAllanan, who was commissioner for customs and border protection, was also promoted to the top of the Internal Security position in a state of disrepair, making his transfer to Wolfe “no legal action.”
Homeland Security has been without a Senate-approved secretary since Kirsten Nielsen resigned in April 2019.
While the Trump administration has faced legal setbacks, it has already introduced a number of asylum restrictions, including forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims are heard in a U.S. court.
Biden is expected to lift some of Trump’s asylum restrictions, including the “Stay in Mexico” policy, but recently said his administration will need “probably in the next six months” to re-establish a system that can handle asylum seekers to prevent the flow of migrants arriving at the southern border.
Also Friday, the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled on the administration’s policy, which gives state and local authorities the right to refuse to resettle refugees.
The three-judge panel said Trump’s executive order, which requires both state and local entities to give their consent before allowing refugees to be accommodated in their areas, would undermine the 1980 Refugee Act. Congress was created to allow resettlement agencies to find the best place where one can thrive while working with local and government officials.