On June 30, a federal judge in the District of Columbia struck down the Trump administration’s asylum transit ban, ending a sweeping policy that had shut down asylum for most people entering the United States at the southern border. The court’s decisive action could not have come soon enough, as the rule has been in effect for almost a year, impacting thousands of asylum seekers.
Several immigrants’ rights groups, including Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, Human Rights First, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and Tahirih Justice Center, alongside twenty-two individual asylum seekers, brought the lawsuit to block implementation of the asylum transit ban which took effect on July 16, 2019.
The rule disqualified people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from receiving asylum unless they had unsuccessfully requested similar protection in another country en route to the U.S. But many of the countries that people typically travel through, like Guatemala, have virtually non-existent asylum systems or ways to keep asylum seekers safe. On its face, the policy applied to anyone who passed through another country before arriving to the United States, but in practice, it disproportionately impacted people from Central America.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, appointed by President Trump in 2017, held that the rule should end immediately. The court found that the government had failed to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which provides that the American public must have sufficient opportunity to comment on a new regulation before its implementation. The government argued that advance notice was not necessary in this case as it would have led to huge numbers of migrants attempting to enter the United States before the rule took effect.
The government only pointed to one article from October 2018 to show good cause to sidestep the notice-and-comment period. The article suggested in part that the number of asylum-seeking families who traveled to the United States after the U.S. government stopped systematically separating families may have increased.
The court didn’t buy it. According to Judge Kelly:
“[T]he article does little if anything to support Defendants’ prediction that undertaking notice-and-comment rulemaking would have led to a dramatic, immediate surge of asylum applicants at the border that would have had the impact they suggest.”
It remains to be seen what will happen to the thousands of people who received negative decisions over the past year as a result of the asylum transit ban. This is particularly true for those in detention facilities who may not have access to an attorney to assist them in asking for a second chance at asylum. And it is hard to know how many people with valid asylum claims have been deported to harm or worse.
The government is expected to appeal the court’s decision, though the advocacy groups that brought the challenge have made clear they are willing to battle it out in the courts.
Challenges remain for asylum seekers fleeing to the United States. According to one report, only two people seeking humanitarian relief at the U.S.-Mexico border between March 21 and May 13, 2020 have been permitted to stay. Restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have largely shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, causing tens of thousands of men, women and children to be “expelled” back to Mexico in light of public safety concerns.
Even so, the decision is a huge win for countless asylum seekers, and a blow to an administration that has repeatedly attempted to bypass Congress where the lives of so many are at stake.
FILED UNDER: asylum ban, asylum seekers