Court Blocks Trump Administration Attempt to Thwart Court Order Protecting Asylum Seekers

Court Blocks Trump Administration Attempt to Thwart Court Order Protecting Asylum Seekers

January 18, 2021

SAN DIEGO—Today, a federal court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking the Trump administration’s latest attempt to prevent asylum seekers from accessing the U.S. asylum process. The order blocks a rule, issued in December and set to take effect on January 19, that sought to circumvent an earlier court order prohibiting the government from applying an asylum ban to certain people forced to wait in Mexico because U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) artificially limited the number of asylum seekers who could enter the United States at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. Oral argument concerning further injunctive relief has been scheduled for February 3, 2021. 

In today’s ruling, the court wrote, “It is at least questionable, if not altogether doubtful, that Defendants can redefine statutory terms in a regulation in direct contradiction to the Court’s plain language interpretation, especially when their intention in doing so is to evade the import of the Court’s previous rulings.”

Said Erika Pinheiro, Litigation and Policy Director of Al Otro Lado, “The Trump administration has made numerous efforts to destroy the U.S. asylum system, including the Asylum Ban addressed by this order. Many refugees suffered egregious harm in Mexico after CBP officers turned them away from U.S. ports of entry; application of the Asylum Ban to these individuals would only have caused further harm by limiting their access to protection. We are hopeful that the Biden administration will roll back all of Trump's anti-asylum policies, but the damage to the asylum system has been so profound that it will take time. We are grateful to the court for preserving the class members' rights in the meantime.” 

Immigrant rights groups have challenged as unlawful the Trump administration’s practice of “metering”—artificially limiting the processing capacity at ports of entry and illegally making asylum seekers  wait in Mexico before they are permitted to access the U.S. asylum process. While thousands of asylum seekers waited in Mexico, the Trump administration issued additional rules limiting access to asylum, including the first iteration of the rule blocked by the court today. 

“Over the last four years, the Trump administration has worked tirelessly to deny asylum seekers their legal rights,” said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Immigrant Justice Project. “This decision rejects what we hope will be their last attempt to undermine the rule of law and allow our class members, who would not have been subject to the ban but for the government’s metering policy, an opportunity to have the merits of their claims heard.”

Advocates applauded the issuance of the TRO, praising it as protecting the rule of law, democratic institutions, and vulnerable migrants. They emphasize that President-elect Joe Biden must prioritize ending all of Trump’s relentless assaults on asylum seekers, including ending the process of metering.

“The Trump administration’s lawlessness, with the imprimatur and cover by lawyers at the Justice Department, started on day 1 of his presidency and continues to the very last minute. The lower courts have done their job in checking the administration’s myriad attacks on our asylum system and the vulnerable people it was designed to protect,” said Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “The Biden administration must work hard and quickly to resolve the humanitarian crisis the Trump administration flamed.” 

Asylum seekers have been seriously harmed after CBP officials turned them back at ports of entry. Advocates say the policy has created a humanitarian crisis for those marooned on the Mexican side of the border and that migrants there are in serious danger of disappearances, kidnappings, rape, and sexual and labor exploitation.

 “Today’s decision upholds the protections for asylum seekers that the court granted over a year ago in response to the government’s attempt to deny asylum eligibility to those subjected to the government’s metering policy. The Trump administration tried to override the court’s well-reasoned decision through agency rulemaking, but, as the court showed today—that’s not how the law works,” said Karolina Walters, staff attorney at American Immigration Council.

The case was originally brought by Al Otro Lado, a binational social justice legal services organization serving deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico, and a group of 13 asylum seekers who were turned away from ports of entry. They are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Immigration Council, and the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP.

Read the order issued today here.

For more information, visit Southern Poverty Law Center, Center for Constitutional Rights, and American Immigration Council.

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For more information, contact:

Maria Frausto, American Immigration Council, 202-507-7526, [email protected]; Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, [email protected]; Marion Steinfels, Southern Poverty Law Center, 202-557 0430, [email protected]and Melissa Flores, Al Otro Lado, [email protected].

Media Contact

Maria Frausto, Senior Communications Manager 

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