A federal judge has overturned a Trump administration policy mandating that asylum seekers first apply for asylum in countries they pass through on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The policy was aimed at deterring illegal immigration from Central American countries including Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly of Washington, D.C., a Trump appointee, said that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act when adopting the policy. The APA requires that the federal government allow time for Americans to weigh in on certain proposed federal policy changes.
“There are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive,” Kelly wrote in his opinion. “But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them.”
Among the plaintiffs were advocacy groups for migrants as well as individual petitioners, who argued that the Trump administration policy violated the Immigration and Nationality Act. Kelly wrote that the law generally allows asylum seekers to petition no matter what country they passed through.
The Trump administration will likely appeal the ruling. However, it is unclear if the ruling will have any immediate effect because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on illegal immigration.
U.S. Immigration, Customs and Enforcement has since mid-March returned almost all migrants caught crossing the border back to Mexico, fearing possible outbreaks of coronavirus in holding facilities. As a result, the pace of illegal immigration has drastically slowed during the pandemic. ICE has also refrained from arresting migrants who do not pose a public danger, and has not attempted arrests at health care facilities to allow migrants to receive medical care.