A federal judge has again ruled against the Trump administration’s attempts to restrict immigrants from seeking or receiving asylum in the United States. The Trump administration wanted to institute a policy that would have prohibited immigrants from seeking asylum if they arrived in the United States illegally, i.e. not through a designated port of entry, but U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss, according to ABC News, ruled that the policy is “in excess of statutory … authority.” The judge indicated that while Congress does grant the Department of Homeland Security some leeway to restrict asylum, those restrictions still must be confined within the laws passed by Congress – and the Trump administration’s policy strayed outside of those confines into illegality.
This case against the Trump administration’s policy was brought on behalf of 19 Central American immigrants; plaintiffs in the suit in part argued that the Trump administration policy was in violation of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), because the INA stipulates that anyone present in the United States may apply for asylum here, regardless of how they entered the country. Judge Moss is the latest to rule in favor of the plaintiffs. The policy, which was first proposed in November of last year, has been kept from being put into place by court challenges. A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the policy last year while the court case played out, indicating that the policy appeared to be an attempt to circumvent Congress. In December the Supreme Court further blocked the Trump administration from putting the policy into place while the court case was still pending. According to ABC News:
The Trump administration’s policy to prohibit migrants from seeking asylum unless they come into the United States through a designated port of entry was rejected by a federal judge on Friday, the latest loss the White House has faced in the courts. The administration was trying to stop those crossing the southern border illegally — outside a designated port of entry — from applying for asylum. But U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss in Washington, D.C., ruled that the policy was unlawful and “in excess of statutory …authority.” … Trump has launched multiple efforts to limit asylum, including a new controversial rule that was announced and immediately challenged just last month. That rule aimed to further limit who could apply for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border by attempting to force migrants to apply for asylum in a third country if they were passing through before applying upon arrival in the United States. If a migrant failed to do this, per the rule, their asylum claim would be denied and they would be immediately deported.
The Trump administration’s side had attempted to argue in the case that the proposed new rule would still allow immigrants to apply for asylum, which they asserted would still be abiding INA, it just would make them ineligible for asylum. If that particular logic seems questionable to you, since applying for asylum is hardly meaningful if “no” is the foregone conclusion to the application, you are not alone. Judge Moss dismissed the Trump administration’s argument, calling it a distinction without a difference.
As mentioned above, another of Trump’s attempts to curtail asylum, in that case by demanding that if an immigrant passes through a country besides the United States on their way to the United States they must apply for asylum in the intermediary country, is also the subject of a court battle. That court battle did not stop Trump from threatening Guatemala with economic repercussions to get them to sign on to an agreement to be a so-called “safe third country”, so that immigrants passing through Guatemala would have to apply for asylum there rather than the United States – without an airplane or boat, all immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador, for example, have to pass through Guatemala (and Mexico) to get to the United States, so the agreement, if put in place, would sharply lower permitted asylum seekers from those countries to the United States. Trump’s agreement with Guatemala has also been called illegal by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
Trump certainly has an anti-immigration, anti-asylum agenda, but that is not the only troubling issue here. Trump is also trying to get around congressional authority with these rule and policy changes, attempting to assert powers he does not have under the law. Court challenges have thus far proven the only means effective in curtailing Trump’s power grab as well as in curtailing the effects of his blatant disregard for the law.