The policies issued by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions were part of Donald Trump’s broader crackdown on asylum and immigration.
In his ruling, Judge Emmet Sullivan also ordered the government to return individuals to the US who had been deported under the policies, which made it difficult for those types of victims to claim “credible fear” of returning to their home countries.
Mr Sullivan wrote that “several of the new credible fear policies” violate federal laws, and said that the Trump administration does not possess the power to unilaterally change immigration law.
“Because it is the will of Congress — not the whims of the Executive — that determine the standards for expected removal, the Court finds that those policies are unlawful,” the decision reads.
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The case before the court revolved around the case of several women and children, including a Salvadoran woman who had been granted asylum only to have it reversed. The woman had fled her home country after years of domestic abuse, but the Trump administration policies found that gang or domestic violence from non-government entities does not generally qualify an individual for asylum.
Mr Sullivan, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, wrote that “there is no legal basis for an effective categorical ban on domestic violence and gang-related claims”.
“This ruling is a defeat for the Trump administration’s all-out assault on the rights of asylum seekers. The government’s attempt to obliterate asylum protections is unlawful and inconsistent with our country’s longstanding commitment to provide protection to immigrants fleeing for their lives,” Jennifer Chang Newell, the managing attorney of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case, said in a statement.
Under US law, immigration officials at the border can remove immigrants attempting to enter the country except when they express “credible fear” claims that being sent back to their home countries would be dangerous or lethal. After those claims are lodged, asylum seekers then have their cases reviewed to determine if those claims are real.
Jennifer Chang Newell, a lawyer for American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who represented the asylum seekers, said the ruling “is a defeat for the Trump administration's all-out assault on the rights of asylum seekers.”
In a statement, the Department of Justice said administration policies sought to follow Congress' requirement that asylum be limited to those with a fear of persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a social group.
The department has filed a request to stay the court's orders while the government appealed the ruling. Judge Sullivan has not yet responded to that request.