High court gives Trump go-ahead on asylum policy
Lifts injunction on denials to slow surge from Mexico
The Supreme Court cleared the way Wednesday for the Trump administration to deny asylum to migrants from other countries who travel through Mexico to reach the U.S., giving the administration a major win as it tries to stop the surge of asylum claims and illegal crossings at the border.
The move overrides a nationwide injunction put into place by a district court in California that blocked the asylum crackdown from taking effect, allowing the Trump administration to implement the policy while the lower court continues to hear arguments on its constitutionality.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, saying they believed it likely the president broke procedural law in announcing the policy without going through all the regulatory hoops.
“Once again the executive branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution,” Justice Sotomayor wrote in the dissent.
The policy, issued in July, was intended to discourage migrants from Central America who have streamed north in recent months, prepared to make iffy asylum claims and then count on the backlogged U.S. system and lax standards for initial claims to earn them a foothold in the U.S.
Only about 1 in 5 will ultimately be granted asylum, analysts say, but the decision could take years. By that time, the migrants will have disappeared into the shadows among the 11 million or more illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
The administration’s policy says those truly fleeing political, religious or other persecution — the cases for which asylum is intended — could have asked for it in Mexico, which is deemed a safe country.
If people from countries other than Mexico don’t do this but instead traverse that country to get to the U.S., that suggests they’re not legitimate asylum seekers but rather regular migrants seeking better jobs or to unite with family, which are not usually valid reasons for asylum under U.S. law, the administration policy states.
More than 327,000 asylum applications were pending as of March this year, according to Fox News, compared with 35,811 claims in 2009.
Although the Supreme Court’s move isn’t a final decision on the merits and the case is still pending, President Trump celebrated its order on Twitter.
“BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!” he tweeted.
Mr. Trump’s critics were dismayed by the president’s court victory and said the effect will be some legitimate asylum seekers will be turned back or made to wait in Mexico, where they could face dangers in a country not up to the safety standards of the U.S.
“Lives will be lost,” said Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California, the chairs of the House Judiciary Committee and its immigration subcommittee. “This rule will result in those fleeing fear and persecution to be turned away at our doorstep and will only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the region. The United States can and must do better.”
United We Dream went further in its criticism, suggesting that the justices were enabling racism.
“The Supreme Court is doing the work for Donald Trump to fulfill his white nationalist agenda of a country with fewer immigrants and refugees,” said Adrian Reyna, strategy director for the group. “Allowing the administration to continue denying asylum cases puts thousands of black and brown people from Central America at risk.”
But administration officials said smugglers had figured out how to exploit the loophole, coaching migrants on “magic words” to use to demand asylum at the border.
Mr. Trump pleaded with Congress to close the loophole but met with resistance from Democrats, forcing his team to take action on its own.
“This kind of abuse creates illicit cash flows to violent criminals, frustrates the efforts of legitimate asylum seekers and undermines the integrity of our immigration system,” said Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Wednesday’s move is the latest win for Mr. Trump with the justices. In late July, the court overturned another lower court’s injunction and let the president proceed with the construction of border walls as part of his border emergency declaration earlier this year.
The administration has an even bigger immigration showdown looming before the court over Mr. Trump’s effort to phase out the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arricals deportation amnesty for illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”
The asylum-related injunction was lifted just days after a federal court reinstated it Monday, siding with immigrant rights groups that challenged the policy this summer.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the injunction by Judge Jon S. Tigar for the Northern District of California could reach only as far as the circuit’s jurisdiction, which covers nine Western states. Only two of those states, Arizona and California, share a border with Mexico. In the meantime, the Trump administration enforced its policy in New Mexico and Texas, which are in different circuits.
But the Monday ruling by Judge Tigar, an appointee of President Obama, attempted to reexpand the injunction across the country, saying it was the only remedy to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs.
“While many of these clients cross the border in the Ninth Circuit, they ‘move between jurisdictions throughout the lifetime of their asylum case,’” the judge wrote.
On Tuesday, the 9th Circuit again narrowed Judge Tigar’s order, and the Supreme Court lifted it completely Wednesday, the latest case of the justices reversing broad injunctions by lower judges on Mr. Trump’s immigration policies. It could presage a showdown at the high court over nationwide injunctions.
Asylum requests are just one of the “loopholes” the administration has been trying to close to stem the surge of migrants who poured into the U.S. in recent months.
Hogan Gidley, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary, said the court’s move Wednesday will help fix the broken asylum system.
“This greatly helps build on the progress we’ve made addressing the crisis at our southern border and will ultimately make American communities safer. The district court’s erroneous nationwide injunction was another in a series of overreaching orders that allowed a single, nonelected district court judge to override policy decisions for the entire nation,” he said.
Migrants seeking asylum across the southwest border are being stopped by a Trump administration policy that denies them asylum if they travel through Mexico, which is considered a safe country, to reach the U.S.