A federal judge halted the Trump administration’s new policy intended to block most Central American migrants from claiming asylum when they reach the U.S., ruling Wednesday that the move treads beyond the powers Congress had granted.
Judge Jon S. Tigar, an Obama appointee sitting on a federal court in California, issued a nationwide injunction ordering the administration not to move forward.
It marked a stunning reversal for President Trump, who earlier in the day had won a favorable judgment on the same issue from a different judge in the District of Columbia.
Judge Tigar, the California judge, listed a number of problems with the new policy. He said the administration cut too many procedural corners, made “arbitrary and capricious” decisions, and ignored the protections Congress has laid out for people seeking asylum.
“An injunction would vindicate the public’s interest — which our existing immigration laws clearly articulate — in ensuring that we do not deliver aliens into the hands of their persecutors,” the judge ruled.
The asylum policy, announced last week, gives immigration officers the power to refuse to hear asylum claims from immigrants who leave their home countries and cross through other countries to reach the U.S., where they make their asylum claims.
Administration officials say if they were valid asylum-seekers, they could stop in any safe country along the journey. The fact that they continue on to the U.S. suggests they’re not refugees, but rather more traditional migrants seeking better jobs or to unite with family.
Tens of thousands of people a year, most of them from Central America, are doing just that.
The administration says Central Americans skip through Mexico, which is generally a safe country for them, to get to the U.S., where studies show they can earn five times as much income for the same kind of work.
Judge Tigar acknowledged the growing strain on the border from the new wave of migration, but said “shortcutting the law” wasn’t an acceptable answer.
Immigrant-rights activists cheered the judge’s decision and blasted the administration for issuing the policy, suggesting Mexico is too violent a place for Central Americans to be forced to seek residency.
“It is inhumane and cruel to force families and individuals fleeing violence to seek safety in places that are just as dangerous as the homes they fled,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, advocacy director for Amnesty International USA.
The White House didn’t immediately comment on Judge Tigar’s ruling.
But earlier in the day it had declared “victory” after the D.C. judge ruled in its favor.
“That was a tremendous ruling today. We appreciate it. We respect the courts very much,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House in the afternoon.
In that case, Judge Timothy J. Kelly, a Trump appointee, rejected a request for a temporary injunction.
He ruled that the immigrant-rights groups who sued didn’t prove their operations would be harmed by allowing the policy to remain in place while the legal arguments proceed.
Judge Tigar, though, ruled the activists groups in his case did prove they would have to shift how they spend money, which he ruled was enough of a harm for them to earn the injunction.
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