Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States wait as they are processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents in the early morning hours after crossing into Yuma, Arizona from Mexico on May 10, 2023.
Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States wait as they are processed by U.S. Border Patrol agents in the early morning hours after crossing into Yuma, Arizona from Mexico on May 10, 2023.
(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In Victory for Migrant Rights, US Court Blocks 'Cruel' Biden Asylum Restrictions

"The administration now faces a choice: Follow the law, or try to block the ruling from taking effect in 14 days, leaving people seeking safety in grave danger," said the ACLU.

Immigrant rights advocates on Tuesday applauded a ruling handed down by a U.S. district judge blocking the Biden administration's anti-asylum rule, which places restrictions on migrants who aim to exercise their internationally recognized right to seek asylum at the southern U.S. border.

Judge Jon S. Tigar, an Obama appointee who serves in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, ruled that the new policy is unlawful, as he did when former Republican President Donald Trump imposed similar restrictions.

The measure, which was introduced in May and immediately prompted the ACLU and other legal groups to file a lawsuit on behalf of several rights organizations, requires migrants to prove that they previously sought protections in a third country before applying for asylum in the United States. The Biden administration has said migrants who want to seek asylum should schedule an appointment using an app that connects them to Customs and Border Protection instead of attempting to cross the border.

"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," wrote Tigar in his ruling.

Melissa Crow, director of litigation at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, which joined the ACLU in representing the plaintiffs, said the policy "violates our laws and makes a mockery of our asylum system."

"The court got it right," Crow said. "We urge the administration to stop defending this illegal policy, and instead take immediate steps to establish a fair and humane process that upholds the rights of all people seeking refuge at our nation's doorstep."

Crow noted that the Biden administration recently admitted that "under the ban, people with meritorious legal claims can be barred from asylum and deported to countries where they face grave harm."

"To them, that is an acceptable price to pay for the illusion of border management," she said. "But they are breaking the law, sowing chaos, and putting vulnerable people in harm's way."

Tigar granted the Biden administration's request for a 14-day stay of the ruling, giving officials time to appeal the decision. The White House is expected to appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and, if the appeals court also strikes down the policy, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"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," said Katrina Eiland, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "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."

In the lawsuit, the ACLU and other groups representing the plaintiffs wrote that President Joe Biden "doubled down on [his] predecessor's cruel asylum restrictions" despite having campaigned on "a promise to restore our asylum system."

"The agencies claim the rule merely provides consequences for asylum-seekers circumventing lawful pathways," reads the lawsuit. "But seeking asylum is a lawful pathway protected by our laws regardless of how one enters the country."

Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of America's Voice, welcomed the ruling and its "strong message to the Biden administration that it must adhere to the law."

But she emphasized that even if Tigar's decision is upheld on appeal, "it does not fix the broken asylum system."

"Only Congress can fully fix the broken asylum and immigration system, giving people the option of coming with visas for family or work and legalizing those who already work here," said Cárdenas. "Congress must deliver the modernization we need."

"In the meantime," she added, "we call on the administration to use the tools it has, including dedicating more resources to the border to address asylum backlogs, while using parole programs, [Temporary Protected Status], and the refugee admissions process to stabilize the system and provide additional pathways for those in need of protection."

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