Federal judge rules against Trump on migrant caravan, blocks changes to asylum rules

Trump was just told he can't block asylum claims for immigrants illegally crossing the border

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 20, 2018 3:34PM (EST)

Central American migrants walking to the U.S. start their day departing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018.  (Getty/AP/Salon)
Central American migrants walking to the U.S. start their day departing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (Getty/AP/Salon)

President Donald Trump was temporarily blocked on Monday night from denying asylum to immigrants crossing over America's southern border between ports of entry.

Judge Jon S. Tigar of the US District Court for the Northern District of California, a federal judge based in San Francisco, wrote in his decision that Trump did not have the constitutional authority to implement his Nov. 9 ban on granting asylum to immigrants who enter the United States outside of a legal checkpoint, according to CNN. As Tigar explained in his order, the president was attempting to circumvent the will of Congress in a way simply not permitted by America's system of government.

"Whatever the scope of the President's authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden," Tigar wrote. He also argued that Trump's order could lead to "increased risk of violence and other harms at the border" if it was implemented.

"Our asylum system is broken, and it is being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year. ... It is absurd that a set of advocacy groups can be found to have standing to sue to stop the entire federal government from acting so that illegal aliens can receive a government benefit to which they are not entitled," declared two administration spokespeople, Katie Waldeman of the Department of Homeland Security and Steven Stafford of the Department of Justice, in a statement responding to Tigar's decision.

As a result of Tigar's order, Trump's ban on asylum seekers will remain suspended until at least Dec. 19, according to The Washington Post. It is unclear how this will impact the fate of the thousands of migrants attempting to cross a legal entry point at San Ysidro, many of whom came from a migrant caravan that Trump denounced as including "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners." In order to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the country, the Trump administration vowed on Tuesday to continue pressing the matter legally. Because the Supreme Court contains 5 Republican-appointed justices and 4 Democrat-appointed justices, the Trump administration could be hoping that America's most powerful bench will overturn Tigar's decision, much as it upheld a revised version of Trump's travel ban against specific Muslim countries in June.

"The United States has a long and proud history of offering protection to aliens who are fleeing persecution and torture and who qualify under the standards articulated in our immigration laws, including through our asylum system and the Refugee Admissions Program," Trump explained in his proclamation last month announcing the asylum ban. "But our system is being overwhelmed by migration through our southern border. Crossing the border to avoid detection and then, if apprehended, claiming a fear of persecution is in too many instances an avenue to near-automatic release into the interior of the United States. Once released, such aliens are very difficult to remove. An additional influx of large groups of aliens arriving at once through the southern border would add tremendous strain to an already taxed system, especially if they avoid orderly processing by unlawfully crossing the southern border."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Asylum Asylum Seekers Donald Trump Illegal Immigration Immigrant Asylum Undocumented Immigrants