By Jack Phillips
A federal judge has blocked the White House’s new rules for people seeking asylum at the U.S.–Mexico border, handing a win to left-wing immigration groups.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar—an Obama appointee—in Northern California found the rules unlawful because the mandate imposes conditions that Congress did not intend. Judge Tigar stayed his own ruling for 14 days, allowing the Biden administration to appeal before his order takes effect.
“The Court concludes that the Rule is contrary to law because it presumes ineligible for asylum noncitizens who enter between ports of entry, using a manner of entry that Congress expressly intended should not affect access to asylum,” the judge wrote on Tuesday.
“The Rule is also contrary to law because it presumes ineligible for asylum noncitizens who fail to apply for protection in a transit country, despite Congress’s clear intent that such a factor should only limit access to asylum where the transit country actually presents a safe option.”
In recent months, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implemented a series of measures that attempt to stem the flow of illegal immigration and better manage the influx of illegal aliens along the U.S.–Mexico border. It came after the Trump-era Title 42 pandemic rule that was used to expel people from the country expired earlier this year.
But Judge Tigar concluded that the new programs that provide illegal aliens an avenue to apply for asylum in the United States are specific to certain nationalities. He added that the rules aren’t meaningful for all people who seek asylum.
“The Rule therefore assumes that these exceptions will, at the very least, present meaningful options to noncitizens subject to the Rule. Parole programs are not meaningfully available to many noncitizens subject to the Rule,” he wrote.
“Though other parole programs exist, the Rule generally relies on the parole programs for Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, and Ukrainian nationals. These programs are country-specific and ‘are not universally available, even to the covered populations.’”
Lawyers for the Department of Justice argued that the administration’s policy is different than a Trump administration version, with a lawyer for the DOJ arguing last week that the new policy includes legal pathways for people seeking asylum protection.
The Biden administration added that the asylum rule was a key part of its strategy to strike a balance between strict border enforcement and ensuring several avenues for migrants to pursue valid asylum claims. The rule was a response to political and economic instability fueling an exodus of migrants from countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela.
The Rule Is ‘Arbitrary and Capricious’
The judge wrote the government violated the Administrative Procedures Act, which sets guidelines on how agencies implement rules when it rolled out the latest asylum rule.
“To justify limiting eligibility for asylum based on the expansion of other means of entry or protection is to consider factors Congress did not intend to affect such eligibility,” he wrote. “The Rule is therefore arbitrary and capricious.”
Judge Tigar blocked a similar policy during the Trump administration, while left-wing immigration groups urged him to do the same with the latest federal rule.
The Supreme Court eventually allowed the Trump administration to limit asylum for people who don’t apply for protection in a country they travel through before coming to the United States to go into effect. But another Trump administration effort to bar people from applying for asylum except at an official border entry point was caught up in litigation and never took effect.
‘The Ruling Is a Victory’
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Judge Tigar’s Tuesday ruling is a win for immigration advocates. The ACLU was involved in the case against the Biden administration.
“The ruling is a victory, but each day the Biden administration prolongs the fight over its illegal ban, many people fleeing persecution and seeking safe harbor for their families are instead left in grave danger,” Katrina Eiland, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.
“The promise of America is to serve as a beacon of freedom and hope, and the administration can and should do better to fulfill this promise, rather than perpetuate cruel and ineffective policies that betray it,” Ms. Eiland said.
In announcing the new rule, the Biden administration emphasized the complex dynamics at play when it comes to immigration, that at one time consisted largely of adults from Mexico seeking to come to the United States. They could easily be returned home. Now migrants come from across the Western Hemisphere and beyond.
Tuesday’s ruling also comes after the Department of Justice, in a separate case, filed a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration after it placed an inflatable barrier inside the Rio Grande river in a bid to curb illegal immigration. Mr. Abbott said on Monday that he would fight the administration in court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.