On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked President Joe Biden’s asylum ban, which largely barred migrants who passed through another country on their way to the U.S.’s southern border from seeking asylum in the U.S.
The asylum ban went into effect in May after the expiration of Title 42, a restrictive pandemic- era policy that was implemented by Trump and continued under Biden. The Biden administration ban was widely condemned by human rights advocates, with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies warning that it would “inevitably result in the wrongful deportation of refugees to countries where they face persecution and torture,” and Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, denouncing the policy as a “disgraceful flouting of refugee law that will have global consequences.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and immigrant rights groups filed a legal challenge to the policy immediately after it was implemented, arguing that it was similar to Trump-era “entry” and “transit” bans that were also struck down by courts. Judge Jon Tigar of the California Northern District Court, who blocked the Biden administration’s restrictive asylum policy on Tuesday, had previously ruled against a similar policy under the Trump administration.
“The court’s ruling is welcome and expected, since the new policy simply rehashed prior rules that restricted access to asylum based on similar grounds, which courts already rejected,” Keren Zwick, director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said in a statement. “U.S. laws protect the rights of people fleeing persecution to come to this country and pursue asylum, full stop.”
The ruling asserts that asylum seekers face numerous obstacles that can make it impossible to seek asylum in South American countries they may pass through before reaching the United States. “Seeking protection in a transit country is  infeasible for many asylum seekers,” Tigar said in his ruling. The ruling goes on to explain that for many asylum seekers, seeking protection in Belize, Colombia, or Mexico is not a viable option; when forced to stay in Mexico, the ruling says, many asylum seekers face a heightened risk of gender-based violence by both state and non-state actors.
“The court got it right. President Biden’s asylum ban violates our laws and makes a mockery of our asylum system. Last week the government conceded that under the ban, people with meritorious legal claims can be barred from asylum and deported to countries where they face grave harm,” Melissa Crow, director of litigation at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, said in a statement. “To them, that is an acceptable price to pay for the illusion of border management. But they are breaking the law, sowing chaos, and putting vulnerable people in harm’s way.”
The Justice Department has appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit has twice affirmed rulings on similar policies under the Trump administration and is expected to uphold Tigar’s ruling.
“The ruling is a victory, but each day the Biden administration prolongs the fight over its illegal ban, many people fleeing persecution and seeking safe harbor for their families are instead left in grave danger,” said deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, Katrina Eiland, who argued the case.
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