US President Joe Biden’s restrictions on access to asylum at the United States border with Mexico can remain in place for now, an appeals court has ruled, as the Biden administration contends with a legal challenge to the policy.
The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals late on Thursday put on hold a district judge’s July 25 ruling that found the regulation violated US law by cutting off asylum for some people caught crossing the border without a permit.
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The restrictions can remain in place pending the outcome of Biden’s appeal, the 9th Circuit said, adding that it would expedite the process.
The Biden administration unveiled the policy in May, announcing that the rule would disqualify people from seeking asylum in the US if they did not first apply in countries they crossed earlier in their journeys to the border.
The new policy coincided with the expiration of a contentious public health order known as Title 42, which since 2020 had allowed US authorities to expel most people crossing the border without offering them the opportunity to apply for protection.
“This administration has led the largest expansion of legal pathways for protection in decades, and this regulation will encourage migrants to seek access to those pathways instead of arriving unlawfully in the grip of smugglers at the southern border,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in May when the asylum policy was announced.
But human rights groups immediately denounced the rule, which many have dubbed an “asylum ban”, and accused the Biden administration of violating its obligations under US and international law.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups challenged the Biden regulation, arguing it unlawfully denied asylum to some migrants and asylum seekers and mirrored restrictions imposed by former President Donald Trump that were also blocked in court.
Katrina Eiland, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case, said the group was “pleased” that the Biden administration’s appeal was put on an expedited schedule and would be heard quickly.
“Because each day the Biden administration prolongs its efforts to preserve its illegal ban, people fleeing grave danger are put in harm’s way,” Eiland said in a statement.
“The Biden administration should uphold our asylum laws, which were designed to give people a fair chance to seek safety, not ban them arbitrarily despite their need for protection.”
Biden, who took office in early 2021 promising to reverse some of Trump’s most hardline, anti-immigration policies, has faced political pressure to respond to increased arrivals at the border with Mexico.
In addition to the asylum rule, the Biden administration has launched what it calls new “legal pathways” for asylum seekers to get to the US in an effort to deter people from trying to reach the border – and opened up migration processing centres in third countries, such as Colombia.
But last month, US District Court Judge Jon Tigar vacated the Biden asylum restriction at the border, though he stayed his ruling for 14 days to allow an appeal.
Tigar ruled that US law does not limit asylum access for people crossing the border without permits and that transit countries to the south do not offer safe and feasible alternatives to migrants and asylum seekers.