Judge blocks Trump administration's sweeping asylum rules

Posted at 7:16 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 22:16:23-05

PHOENIX (AP) -- A U.S. judge on Friday blocked the Trump administration's most sweeping set of asylum restrictions less than two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

The rules had been set to take effect Monday.

The court order has limited immediate impact because the government has largely suspended asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border during the coronavirus pandemic. Still, letting the rules take effect would have been felt by some who can still claim asylum and make it significantly more difficult for all asylum-seekers once pandemic-related measures are lifted.

The Trump administration argued that the measures were an appropriate response to a system rife with abuse. They sought to redefine how people qualify for asylum and similar forms of humanitarian protection if they face persecution at home. The restrictions would have broadened the grounds for a judge to deem asylum applications "frivolous" and prohibit applicants from ever winning protections in the U.S.

U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco sided with advocacy groups who sued, saying acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf lacks the authority to impose the sweeping rules.

Donato, who was appointed to the bench in 2013 by President Barack Obama, wrote that Wolf's appointment violated an established order of succession. He said it was the fifth time a court has ruled against Homeland Security on the same grounds.

"The government has recycled exactly the same legal and factual claims made in the prior cases, as if they had not been soundly rejected in well-reasoned opinions by several courts," Donato wrote. "This is a troubling litigation strategy. In effect, the government keeps crashing the same car into a gate, hoping that someday it might break through."

Donato said his ruling applies nationwide because limiting its reach "would result in a fragmented and disjointed patchwork of immigration policy."

It was not immediately clear if the Trump administration would make an emergency appeal. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to reverse some of Trump's restrictive asylum measures, including the "Remain in Mexico" policy, but recently said his administration would need "probably the next six months" to re-create a system that can process asylum-seekers to prevent a flood of migrants arriving at the southern border.