Law­suit chal­lenges pres­i­dent’s asy­lum move

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAYAREA - By Bob Egelko

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.

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