US judge restores nationwide block on Trump's asylum ban

The ruling blocks the Trump administration's rule barring nearly all Central Americans from seeking asylum in the US.

    Immigrants from Central America and Mexican citizens queue to cross into the US to apply for asylum at the new border crossing of El Chaparral in Tijuana, Mexico [File: Jorge Duenes/Reuters]
    Immigrants from Central America and Mexican citizens queue to cross into the US to apply for asylum at the new border crossing of El Chaparral in Tijuana, Mexico [File: Jorge Duenes/Reuters]

    A United States federal judge in California on Monday reinstated a nationwide injunction against a new Trump administration rule that aimed to block almost all asylum applications at the US-Mexico border.

    San Francisco-based US District Judge Jon Tigar had previously issued a nationwide injunction blocking the rule, which requires most immigrants who want asylum to first seek safe haven in a country they had travelled through on their way to the US.

    But the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed it to only border states within its jurisdiction, California and Arizona, and sent the question back to Tigar. On Monday, Tigar ruled it should apply across the entire border, pending a trial on the underlying legality of the Trump administration rule.

    The rule, unveiled on July 15, forms part of President Donald Trump's anti-immigration policy, a centrepiece of his 2016 election campaign and a major issue as he seeks re-election in November 2020.

    One of the Republican president's main objectives has been to reduce the number of asylum claims, primarily by Central American migrants who have crossed the US-Mexico border in large numbers during his presidency. 

    Trump said later on Monday that he disagreed with the judge's ruling.

    "I think it's very unfair that he does that," Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to North Carolina. "I don't think it should be allowed."

    Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters that he was frustrated by the judge's decision. 

    He criticised the "unprecedented judicial activism" which he said meant every time the administration came up with a policy to "address this crisis, we end up getting enjoined".

    "It's very, very frustrating, but we're just going to keep going," he said. 

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    The rule would block nearly all families and individuals from countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala from entering the US after crossing through Mexico as asylum seekers. The rule has some exceptions and would keep asylum protections for Mexican citizens.

    The rule drew legal challenges, including from several immigrant-rights groups which accused the administration of pursuing a virtual asylum ban and jeopardising the safety and security of migrants fleeing persecution and seeking safety in the US. 

    Many Central Americans who have travelled to the US border over the last year told Al Jazeera they were fleeing violence, poverty and political persecution. 

    US law allows refugees to request asylum when they arrive in the US regardless of how they did so, but there is an exception for those who have come through a country considered to be "safe". The Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs asylum law, is vague on how a country is determined "safe". The act says that a safe country is "pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement". 

    Right now, the US has such an agreement, known as a "safe third country", only with Canada. The US and Guatemala have also signed a safe country agreement, but the details are unclear and Guatemalan President-elect Alejandro Giammattei has said the deal still needs congressional approval. 

    The Trump administration had also asked the US Supreme Court to block the appeals court ruling that applied only to California and Arizona. It was not immediately clear what the federal government's way forward was to attempt to overturn the nationwide blocking of its new rule pending trial.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies