Trump administration defends asylum crackdown, citing border 'crisis,' after judge rules against ban

Donald Trump; migrants waiting to request asylum request at the U.S.- Mexico border. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The Trump administration’s crackdown on refugees crossing into the U.S. from Mexico was suspended late Monday by a federal judge, prompting a response from the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department, which said they would continue to defend the administration’s authority to deal with the “crisis” at the border.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman and DOJ spokesman Steven Stafford dismissed the lawsuit by advocacy groups that prompted the judge’s ruling as “absurd,” and cited the Supreme Court’s ruling over the summer upholding the President Trump’s executive order banning entry to the U.S. for citizens of certain predominantly Muslim countries as proof that “Congress has given the President broad authority to limit or even stop the entry of aliens into this country.”

“Further, asylum is a discretionary benefit given by the Executive Branch only when legal conditions are met and a favorable exercise of discretion is warranted,” the statement continued, insisting, “It is lawful and appropriate that this discretionary benefit not be given to those who violate a lawful and tailored presidential proclamation aimed at controlling immigration in the national interest.

“We look forward to continuing to defend the Executive Branch’s legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border.”

Honduran caravan members at the fence at the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, Calif., on Monday. (Photo: Sandy Huffaker / AFP/Getty Images)

Asked whether the administration still intended to enforce the proclamation restrictions in light of the judge’s order, a DHS spokesperson told Yahoo News Tuesday that the “DHS is still reviewing the order.”

The statement comes after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the Trump administration from enforcing a presidential proclamation restricting access to asylum on the southwest border. Trump framed the rule — which automatically denied asylum to migrants who cross the border at locations other than official ports of entry — as a national security measure to protect against an “invasion” by mostly Central American migrants who are traveling through Mexico in caravans toward the U.S. The proclamation immediately faced a legal challenge from the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights, which argued that the ban violated the Immigration and Nationality Act stating that anyone may seek asylum in the U.S. as long as they are in the country, regardless of how they got here.

“The rule barring asylum for immigrants who enter the country outside a port of entry irreconcilably conflicts with the INA and the expressed intent of Congress,” reads the court order, issued late Monday by Judge Jon Tigar.  “Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden.”

“Also, Plaintiffs and the immigrants they represent will suffer irreparable injury if the rule goes into effect pending resolution of this case,” Tigar continued. “Asylum seekers will be put at increased risk of violence and other harms at the border, and many will be deprived of meritorious asylum claims. The government offers nothing in support of the new rule that outweighs the need to avoid these harms.”

The restraining order is effective until Dec. 19, pending further legal proceedings.

Central American migrants in caravan — made up mostly of Hondurans — who are traveling to the U.S. rest in a Mexicali, Baja California State, Mexico, park on Tuesday.  (Photo: by Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, praised Judge Tigar’s order as “a critical step in fighting back against President Trump’s war on asylum seekers.”

“This ban is illegal, will put people’s lives in danger, and raises the alarm about President Trump’s disregard for separation of powers,” the ACLU’s Lee Gelernt, who argued the case in court Monday, said in a statement. “There is no justifiable reason to flatly deny people the right to apply for asylum, and we cannot send them back to danger based on the manner of their entry. Congress has been clear on this point for decades.”

Weeks after Trump warned of the caravans’ imminent arrival and deployed thousands of U.S. troops to the border in what many saw as an attempt to stoke anti-immigrant fears ahead of the midterm elections, the first waves of caravan members started to arrive by the hundreds in Tijuana last week, with thousands more expected to follow. With U.S. border officials already imposing daily limits on applications for asylum at the main port of entry between Tijuana and San Diego, immigration advocates warned the result may be more illegal border crossings by migrants facing long waits in dangerous conditions on the Mexican side.

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