Groups sue Trump admin over new asylum restrictions

Groups sue Trump admin over new asylum restrictions
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A coalition of groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday over new restrictions for migrants seeking asylum in the United States, the same day the rule went into effect.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and Center for Constitutional Rights are challenging a Trump administration rule that would make asylum seekers who pass through another country before reaching the U.S.-Mexico border ineligible for asylum, with few exceptions. Officials first announced the rule Monday.

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Tuesday's lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco, the coalition said in a press release. The complaint is filed on behalf of several immigration nonprofits in the area.

The lawsuit targets several Trump administration officials, including Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFederal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Mulvaney ties withheld Ukraine aid to political probe sought by Trump MORE, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli, among others.

The groups are seeking an injunction blocking enforcement of the rule and an order striking down the rule itself.

The complaint alleges that the rule violates the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and that Barr and McAleenan violated the Administrative Procedure Act in issuing the measure.

“As part of our nation’s commitment to the protection of people fleeing persecution and consistent with our international obligations, it is longstanding federal law that merely transiting through a third country is not a basis to categorically deny asylum to refugees who arrive at our shores,” the lawsuit states.

Specifically, the lawsuit points to provisions in the INA that state an asylum seeker cannot be granted asylum because of their ties to a third country only if “firmly resettled in that third country or subject to a safe third country agreement.”

“The Rule thus bars virtually every noncitizen fleeing persecution from obtaining asylum in the United States if they passed through another country on their way here, no matter the conditions or purpose of their journey through that country or their prospect of protection, rights, or permanent legal status in that country,” the lawsuit states. 

“Accordingly, anyone fleeing persecution from the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the countries that constitute the Northern Triangle who reasonably does not apply for protection while en route will be categorically denied the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States and likely forced to return to countries that are rife with danger and violence. The Rule is a part of an unlawful effort to significantly undermine, if not virtually repeal, the U.S. asylum system at the southern border, and cruelly closes our doors to refugees fleeing persecution, forcing them to return to harm.”

The administration announced the rule Monday, arguing that it was needed to address the growing number of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border.

Certain migrants who travel through a third country are allowed to still seek asylum under the rule, including trafficking victims, migrants denied asylums in the nations they passed through and those who went through countries that have not signed major international refugee treaties.

Barr said in a statement announcing the rule that it would “decrease forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States — while ensuring that no one is removed from the United States who is more likely than not to be tortured or persecuted on account of a protected ground.”

This is far from the first of the Trump administration’s asylum policies to be challenged in court.

The “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required some asylum seekers to stay in Mexico as their immigration proceedings took place, as well as an order from Barr allowing the indefinite detention of some asylum-seekers, both suffered losses in lower courts.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed the “Remain in Mexico” policy to be enforced as the lower court ruling is appealed. The detention order is also going through the appeals process.

The efforts to tighten asylum measures are part of the Trump administration’s broader crackdown on immigration. Nationwide immigration raids were set to begin this past weekend.

And the president has called U.S. immigration laws as the "dumbest" in the world, calling on lawmakers to pass bills to tighten asylum laws. Such legislation has yet to catch on in either the House or Senate.