Ruling ends restrictive policy that had halted most asylum claims by migrants seeking entry at the US southern border.
In a defeat for President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies, a United States federal judge has overturned a Trump administration rule requiring migrants to first claim asylum in another country before seeking entry to the US.
The Trump rule, rushed into place in 2019, was aimed at blocking migrants from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala from claiming asylum at the US-Mexico border.
The federal judge’s ruling in Washington, DC, found the Trump administration’s ban on asylum seekers at the border violated US immigration law and administrative procedures that require public notice of major rule changes.
The US Immigration and Nationality Act allows anyone who has made it to US soil to apply for asylum, with exceptions for those with criminal records, US District Judge Timothy Kelly argued in a 52-page decision in favour of asylum seekers and immigrant advocates.
Kelly, who was appointed to the bench by President Trump in 2017, ruled that the US Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security had failed to properly follow required administrative procedures by hurriedly issuing the asylum ban.
The US Administration Procedures Act “commands that courts hold unlawful and set aside agency actions taken without observance of procedure required by law,” Kelly ruled.
The decision immediately halts implementation of the Trump policy which had effectively barred asylum for individuals who crossed the southern border without first seeking protection from a third country while on the way to the US.
It means that thousands of migrants who were turned away over the past year will have an opportunity to have their asylum claims heard in court.
“Judge Kelly’s ruling is a massive victory for asylum seekers and the rule of law,” said Mitchell Reich, the lawyer who argued the case on behalf of immigrant rights groups.
“Judge Kelly rightly concluded that the administration failed to do its homework in issuing this rule. It didn’t hear from interested parties and it didn’t give any remotely satisfactory explanation for ignoring normal administrative procedures,” Reich said in a statement issued by Human Rights First, one of several groups that brought the lawsuit.
The rights groups had argued that requiring migrants who are fleeing their home countries because of deadly violence and persecution to first file asylum claims in third countries was virtually impossible, thus making the rule effectively an illegal ban on asylum seekers.
Manoj Govindaiah, director of litigation at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, said the court ruling was a vindication.
“The court determined what we have all known since this rule was created – that it is illegal, it violates everything this country stands for and it must be thrown out,” Govindaiah said.
The decision is the second legal setback for the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies this week.
On June 28, the US Supreme Court upheld the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, which has allowed 800,000 “dreamers” who came to the US as children to remain. Trump had tried to end the programme put in place by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.