Appeals court upholds injunction of third country asylum ban

An appeals court upheld a lower court’s injunction on the Trump administration’s asylum ban that would have denied asylum to anyone who traveled through another country before arriving in the U.S., court records show.

Amid a surge of asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2019, the Trump administration announced in July 2019 it would effectively ban any migrants seeking asylum who cross the U.S.-Mexico border after traveling through a third country.

The next day, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a federal civil suit against the administration in hopes of having a court temporarily stop the new rule from being implemented.

During most of 2019, the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border experienced a surge of families and unaccompanied children surrendering to U.S. Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at legal ports of entry.

Despite the Trump administration’s continued push to restrict legal migration to the country — which was underscored by this week’s visa restriction announcement — the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made the first appellate decision on the ban Monday.

That decision holds up a lower court’s injunction and states it would go against congressional law and is arbitrary in nature, according to the ruling.

The panel — composed of Circuit Judges William A. Fletcher, Richard R. Clifton and Eric D. Miller — states the “rule is unlawful under the Administrative Procedures Act, APA,” on the grounds that the rule is not in accordance with established asylum laws, the document stated.

Additionally, the panel concluded the rule is not consistent with asylum laws because it does “virtually nothing to ensure that a third country is a safe option,” the court document states.

At the time of the announced rule, then-U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan said the rule was necessary to reduce “pull factors” for people from other countries seeking asylum in the United States.

“Ultimately, today’s action will reduce the overwhelming burdens on our domestic system caused by asylum-seekers failing to seek urgent protection in the first available country, economic migrants lacking a legitimate fear of persecution, and the transnational criminal organizations, traffickers, and smugglers exploiting our system for profits,” McAleenan said at the time.

A stay of injunction is currently in place from the Supreme Court.

Similarly, last week a federal district court in Washington ruled against the ban on narrower procedural grounds. That ruling is not covered by the Supreme Court stay.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, who argued the appeal, reacted to the Court’s opinion Monday, characterizing the administration’s rule as a way to get around asylum protections.

“The court recognized the grave danger facing asylum seekers and blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to make an end-run around asylum protections enacted by Congress,” Gelernt said in a prepared release.

According to a report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a non-partisan, Syracuse University-based project that tracks data from ICE and other federal agencies, immigration judges decided a record number of asylum cases in 2019.

Between 2014 and 2019, “the number of immigrants who have been denied asylum or other relief grew even faster from 9,716 immigrants to 46,735,” the TRAC report stated. “Sixty nine percent (69%) of asylum seekers were denied asylum or other relief in 2019.”

Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, said the ruling holds up and underscores the administration’s attempt to undermine the asylum system.

“While this decision offers hope to many individuals and families who would otherwise have been deemed ineligible for asylum, far too many obstacles remain, as this administration’s war on asylum seekers appears to know no bounds,” Crow said in the prepared release.