Federal Court Strikes Down Trump Asylum Ban

A federal judge has ruled that one of the Trump administration's most stringent policies aimed at deterring asylum seekers from reaching U.S. soil is illegal.

Instituted in 2019, the policy had barred asylum seekers from claiming refuge in the U.S. unless they had first sought to claim asylum in a country they passed through on their way to the border.

On Tuesday night, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly of Washington, D.C. said the ban was unlawful, ruling in favor of immigration advocates and asylum seekers, who said the so-called "third-country asylum rule" violated the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Kelly, a Trump appointee, said the Act generally ensures that anyone who makes it onto U.S. soil should be able to make an asylum claim, barring some exceptions.

In making the policy change, he said, the Trump administration did not follow the federal Administration Procedure Act (APA), which allows the public to be able to consider and comment on U.S. policy changes.

"There are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive," Kelly said in his ruling. "But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them."

"If engaging in notice-and-comment rulemaking before implementing the rule would have harmed ongoing negotiations, Defendants could have argued that these effects gave them good cause to forgo these procedures. And they could have provided an adequate factual record to support those predictive judgments to which the Court could defer," he said. "But they did not do so."

The Trump administration had argued that the policy change had good reason to be exempt from APA rules, offering multiple reasons. However, Kelly said that none of the government's arguments "passes muster."

In a statement shared with Newsweek, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Julie Veroff said "the court recognized that the Trump administration unlawfully skipped steps mandated by Congress to ensure transparency in its failed attempt to make an end-run around asylum protections.

Meanwhile, Keren Zwick, the director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said advocates were glad to see Kelly show the Trump administration it "is not above the law."

"We are thrilled that Judge Kelly has held the administration accountable for failing to follow longstanding procedural rules as it tries to eviscerate the asylum system," Zwick said. "The rule had a devastating impact on asylum seekers, and we are glad to see Judge Kelly clearly state that this administration is not above the law even as it tries to villainize refugees."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.

Asylum seekers
Migrants and asylum seekers wait at the entrance to the Paso del Norte International Bridge on February 28, 2020, in Ciudad Juárez. A federal judge has ruled against a Trump administration policy preventing asylum seekers from claiming refuge in the U.S. unless they have tried to do so in another country enroute to the border. Paul Ratje / AFP/Getty