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Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Blocks Trump Administration’s Effort to Tighten Asylum Rules

Migrants, en route to the United States, make their way to San Pedro Tapanatepec from Mexico, October 27, 2018. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling that blocked the Trump administration from immediately enforcing new rule changes designed to tighten restrictions on migrants seeking asylum.

The 5-4 decision prevents the administration from implementing a change to asylum rules that would have blocked migrants detained while attempting to the cross the border illegally from seeking asylum. Under the rule change ordered by President Trump on November 9th, only those migrants who present themselves at lawful ports of entry would be entitled to apply for asylum.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberal justices in declining to stay District Court judge Jon Tagar’s original restraining order that blocked the measure, while conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.

The ruling upholds a decision made by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit earlier this month, which held that the president’s order was an attempt to circumvent the federal statute that allows all migrants who enter the country to seek asylum, regardless of how they crossed the border.

“Just as we may not, as we are often reminded, ‘legislate from the bench,’ neither may the Executive legislate from the Oval Office,” wrote Bush-nominated Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee for the 2-1 majority.

In defending the policy before the High Court, Solicitor General Noel Francisco has argued the rule change would address the large backlog of asylum cases pending before courts by stemming the flow of migrants who file baseless claims in order to remain in the U.S. after being detained while crossing the border illegally.

The rule change would “channel asylum seekers to ports of entry for orderly processing, discourage dangerous and illegal entries between ports of entry, reduce the backlog of meritless asylum claims, and facilitate diplomatic negotiations,” Francisco wrote.

The ACLU, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, argued that the rule change undermines Congressional authority by effectively rewriting federal law.

“The administration’s quarrel here is really with the longstanding and fundamental policy decision Congress made four decades ago and consistently and explicitly reaffirmed over the years, even as it enacted other significant restrictions on asylum eligibility and procedures,” the ACLU’s brief states.

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