Lawsuit challenges president’s asylum move
Hours after President Trump barred asylum Friday for thousands of undocumented immigrants entering the United States at the Mexican border, advocates for the migrants filed a federal lawsuit in San Francisco saying Trump’s order violates long-standing U.S. law.
“This action undermines the rule of law and is a great moral failure because it tries to take away protections from individuals facing persecution,” said Omar Jadwat, chief immigration attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents asylum support groups in the case.
Asylum allows immigrants to remain in the country if they can show a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their homeland for reasons such as race, religion or political views. Trump’s proclamation, which takes effect Saturday, would allow only those entering the U.S. at designated ports of entry — currently overcrowded, with substantial waiting periods — to apply for asylum, and would deny it to those who entered anywhere else.
“The continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border has precipitated a crisis,” Trump said. He cited
presidential authority to prevent entry by groups of foreigners whose presence would be harmful to the United States, the argument the Supreme Court accepted in June when it upheld his ban on U.S. entry by people from a group of mostly Muslim countries.
But the lawsuit said Trump was flouting a law first enacted as the Refugee Act of 1980, designed to bring the U.S. into compliance with international treaties dating back to 1951. The law specifies that any foreigner “who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival) ... may apply for asylum.”
The president is acting “in direct violation of Congress’s clear command that manner of entry cannot constitute a categorical asylum bar,” the suit said. It also said Trump, in ordering the ban to take effect immediately, is violating laws that require at least a 30-day waiting period and an opportunity for the public to comment on new federal regulations.
The suit seeks an injunction halting enforcement of the order. The lead plaintiff is East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley, founded in 1982 to assist refugees fleeing civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala.
The opposing sides presented dramatically different accounts of the situation at the Mexican border. Trump said about 2,000 “inadmissible aliens” — a word he used 40 times in his four-page proclamation — have been crossing the border each week, “overwhelming” the system and putting “lives of both law enforcement and aliens at risk.”
But the lawsuit said migration at the southern border has been declining, and the number of immigrants arrested by the Border Patrol in 2017 was the lowest since 1972. Meanwhile, the suit said, asylum-seekers at the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego County, the busiest land crossing in the Western Hemisphere, have to wait four to six weeks in Tijuana before entering.
Border Patrol agents are using “threats, intimidation and coercion” to turn back asylum applicants at the ports of entry, the suit said. It said immigrants seeking asylum “are fleeing some of the most dangerous countries in the world.”
Trump’s order applies only to those who enter the United States in the future and not to those already here. It would allow immigrants who were newly barred from claiming asylum to still avoid deportation by proving that they would face persecution or torture in their homeland.
But the suit said those requirements are more demanding than the “well-founded fear of persecution” standard for asylum, which also provides protection for a successful applicant’s spouse and children.