A US federal judge has said that the Trump administration can enforce its new restrictions on asylum for people crossing the United States-Mexico border while lawsuits challenging the policy play out.
US District Judge Timothy Kelly in Washington, DC, denied a request for a temporary restraining order on the rule – designed to bar nearly all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border – that went into effect last week.
Kelly said the immigrant advocacy groups behind the suit did not prove that their work would be “irreparably harmed” if the policy moved forward.
The groups sued on behalf of themselves as nonprofit organisations that offer services to immigrants who would be unable to seek asylum under the new restrictions.
A separate hearing on a similar suit led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), challenging the Trump administration rule, was scheduled later on Wednesday in San Francisco, California.
The judge in that case has already barred less restrictive policies on asylum from taking effect and could act to block the new asylum policy.
According to the new rule, asylum seekers who pass through other countries on their way to the US will no longer be eligible for asylum. The rule applies not only to adult asylum seekers but unaccompanied minors as well.
The only exceptions to the policy are victims of human trafficking, cases in which asylum seekers passed through countries that are not signatories of the major international treaties concerning the treatment of refugees or cases in which an individual first sought asylum in another country and failed to obtain it.
The latest proposal targets the tens of thousands of Central American adults and children who cross Mexico every month to try to enter the US.
It also would affect asylum-seekers from Africa, Asia, and South America.
Legal groups argued the administration’s proposal was barred by federal law establishing how people can seek asylum.
US law allows refugees to request asylum when they arrive, regardless of how they did so. There is an exception for those who have come through a country considered to be “safe”.
Top US officials say their latest plan would discourage migrants from leaving their countries, which is necessary to reduce the numbers of people that US border agents are detaining.
Meanwhile, rights groups have condemned the rule as “unlawful” and “in direct conflict with the US refugee law”.
“The Trump administration is trying to unilaterally reverse our country’s legal and moral commitment to protect those fleeing danger,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the ACLU in a statement last week.
Trump has struggled to stem an increase of mostly Central American families arriving at the US-Mexico border, leading to overcrowded detention facilities and dire conditions for those at the border.
The Trump administration has issued a rapid-fire series of anti-immigration edicts recently, the latest coming on Monday with a new rule to expedite deportations for immigrants who have crossed between official ports of entry and are caught anywhere in the US, expanding a programme typically applied only along the southern border with Mexico.