ACLU, ad­vo­cacy groups sue to block asy­lum re­stric­tions

Ad­min­is­tra­tion is over­step­ping its au­thor­ity, plain­tiffs say


At­tor­neys for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and other im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy groups filed suit Fri­day in the North­ern Dis­trict of Cal­i­for­nia to block the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to deny asy­lum pro­tec­tions to mi­grants who cross the Mex­ico bor­der il­le­gally.

The suit ac­cuses the ad­min­is­tra­tion of at­tempt­ing to vi­o­late the Im­mi­gra­tion and Na­tion­al­ity Act and the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act, al­leg­ing that Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have im­prop­erly rushed to im­ple­ment the new re­stric­tions while also as­sert­ing ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers that lie be­yond the scope of what the Supreme Court up­held in its “travel ban” de­ci­sion this year.

The suit came hours af­ter Trump is­sued a de­cree Fri­day morn­ing that set in mo­tion his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort to close off asy­lum ben­e­fits for those who en­ter the United States il­le­gally. The mea­sures are to take ef­fect Sat­ur­day.

“The asy­lum ban is not jus­ti­fied by events on the ground, puts lives in dan­ger and is patently un­law­ful,” said Lee Gel­ernt, an ACLU at­tor­ney. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion is fla­grantly ig­nor­ing a fed­eral statute and by­pass­ing the most ba­sic pro­ce­dural re­quire­ments gov­ern­ing the is­suance of new laws.”

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have an­tic­i­pated the law­suits and the pos­si­bil­ity that lower courts will side with the plain­tiffs. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has suf­fered re­peated de­feats in dis­trict courts in Cal­i­for­nia, but ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials view the rul­ings as nec­es­sary hur­dles to reach the Supreme Court, which by a 5-to-4 vote in June up­held a re­vised ver­sion of the travel ban that sought to block for­eign­ers from sev­eral Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tions from en­ter­ing the United States.

Un­der the new mea­sures, an­nounced by ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials Thurs­day, Trump seeks to ex­er­cise the same emer­gency au­thor­ity in­voked dur­ing his “travel ban” of early 2017 to bar any­one cross­ing the Mex­ico bor­der il­le­gally from qual­i­fy­ing for asy­lum.

Pro­tec­tions for asy­lum seek­ers will re­main avail­able to those who ap­ply at of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ings, or U.S. ports of en­try, and the re­stric­tions would not ap­ply to un­der­age asy­lum seek­ers who ar­rive with­out a par­ent or guardian.

In his procla­ma­tion, Trump said the mea­sures were nec­es­sary to pre­pare for the ar­rival of thou­sands of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans trav­el­ing in groups through Mex­ico to­ward the U.S. bor­der with what he said was no ap­par­ent “law­ful ba­sis for ad­mis­sion into our coun­try.”

“The ar­rival of large num­bers of aliens will con­trib­ute to the over­load­ing of our im­mi­gra­tion and asy­lum sys­tem and to the re­lease of thou­sands of aliens into the in­te­rior of the United States,” the procla­ma­tion states.

Asy­lum claims have in­creased four­fold since 2014, com­pound­ing a back­log of more than 750,000 cases in U.S. im­mi­gra­tion courts.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s emer­gency re­stric­tions would still al­low those seek­ing refuge to po­ten­tially qual­ify for a lesser le­gal sta­tus known as “with­hold­ing of re­moval” that would spare them, on a pro­vi­sional ba­sis, from de­por­ta­tion.

That sta­tus would not pro­vide a chance at le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dency or cit­i­zen­ship, but it would give those who en­ter il­le­gally a way to avoid be­ing sent back to Cen­tral Amer­ica if they can con­vince a U.S. asy­lum of­fi­cer that they face a “rea­son­able fear” of per­se­cu­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the White House procla­ma­tion is­sued Fri­day, the asy­lum re­stric­tions will re­main in ef­fect for 90 days and would ter­mi­nate if the gov­ern­ment of Mex­ico agrees to a long-stand­ing U.S. re­quest to al­low Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment to de­port Cen­tral Amer­i­cans to Mex­ico if they have en­tered from Mex­i­can ter­ri­tory.

The Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has given no in­di­ca­tion it plans to do so.

An es­ti­mated 7,000 to 10,000 Cen­tral Amer­i­cans are cur­rently en route through Mex­ico in “car­a­van” groups, the largest of which is pre­par­ing to depart Mex­ico City af­ter rest­ing sev­eral days at a sports com­plex there.

Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties say nearly 5,000 mi­grants are trav­el­ing with that group, the vast ma­jor­ity of whom are from Hon­duras, where the car­a­van orig­i­nated. More than 1,700 are younger than 18, and at last 300 are younger than 5.

Many say they are flee­ing gang vi­o­lence or death threats and plan to re­quest hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­tec­tions in the United States. Oth­ers ac­knowl­edge they are seek­ing jobs or re­union with fam­ily mem­bers — mo­ti­va­tions that would not qual­ify them for asy­lum un­der U.S. law.

The group is plan­ning to travel more than 1,000 miles to the U.S. bor­der cross­ing at Ti­juana, a jour­ney that could take sev­eral weeks if car­a­van mem­bers con­tinue walk­ing and hitch­hik­ing most of the way.

Large num­bers of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans al­ready are lined up in in­for­mal queues in the Ti­juana area, be­cause U.S. cus­toms of­fi­cers limit the num­ber of asy­lum seek­ers al­lowed to ap­proach the bor­der cross­ing each day, cit­ing ca­pac­ity and per­son­nel lim­its.

Se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials gave no in­di­ca­tion they plan to in­crease re­sources and per­son­nel in the San Diego area to cope with a po­ten­tially large in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple ap­proach­ing the ports of en­try.

One Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity at his agency’s in­sis­tence, crit­i­cized the car­a­van’s de­ci­sion to take a much longer route to­ward San Diego, in­stead of ap­proach­ing the U.S. bor­der in South Texas, which is much closer ge­o­graph­i­cally.

“The premise that in­di­vid­u­als who are sup­posed to be flee­ing per­se­cu­tion with le­git­i­mate claims of per­se­cu­tion would make a de­ci­sion to, in­stead of pre­sent­ing them­selves for pro­tec­tion in Mex­ico or at the clos­est U.S. ports of en­try, travel an ad­di­tional 1,000 miles to a spe­cific port of en­try to pur­sue their claim calls into ques­tion the le­git­i­macy” of that claim, the of­fi­cial said.

The longer route to Ti­juana is con­sid­ered safer for mi­grants who can­not af­ford a smug­gling guide. Shorter routes to the Rio Grande Val­ley along the Texas bor­der are un­der the con­trol of crim­i­nal groups who rou­tinely kill and kid­nap those who do not pay tolls for pass­ing through ter­ri­tory un­der their con­trol.

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