Judge Strikes Down Trump Administration’s Attempt to Tighten Asylum Process

Migrants from Honduras walk next to the border fence as they prepare to cross it illegally, in Tijuana, Mexico, December 14, 2018. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down former attorney general Jeff Sessions’s attempt to heighten the requirements for migrants seeking asylum under the “credible fear” standard.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan struck down the major components of Sessions’s June decision, which sought to deny entry to migrants claiming asylum under the “credible fear” standard due to the threat of gang-related violence. Sullivan found that Sessions’s interpretation of the “credible fear” standard violated federal law and ordered that those migrants deported from the country due to the revised asylum rules be returned to the U.S.

“A general rule that effectively bars [asylum] claims based on certain categories of persecutors (i.e. domestic abusers or gang members) or claims related to certain kinds of violence is inconsistent with Congress’ intent to bring ‘United States refugee law into conformance with the [Protocol],” Sullivan wrote. “The new general rule is thus contrary to the Refugee Act and the [Immigration and Nationality Act].”

Sessions, who was fired in early November just one day after the midterm elections, defended the rule change on the grounds that the existing policy granted provided migrants with an overly broad and hard to verify set of circumstances that could be used to enter the asylum processing system.

“The vast majority of the current asylum claims are not valid,” Sessions said when announcing the policy change in June. “Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems, even all serious problems, that people face every day all over the world.”

Sullivan threatened to hold Sessions in contempt in an unrelated case in August after learning that the Department of Justice moved to deport a mother and her child while their immigration proceedings were still ongoing.

Under the new policy that Sessions hoped to adopt permanently, migrants would only be entitled to claim asylum if they were endangered by the actions of the state from which they fled.

A backlog of roughly 700,000 unprocessed asylum claims existed when Sessions made his announcement in June. According to the Department of Homeland Security, many of those unprocessed claims were filed by migrants who have no legitimate claim to asylum but nevertheless file an application because they know they will be admitted to the country and can remain — for years in many cases — while their claim is being adjudicated.

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