In a recent decision, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of the Northern District of California stopped a rule that allowed immigration authorities to refuse asylum to migrants who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border without applying online or seeking protection in a country they passed through. But the judge gave the Biden administration two weeks to appeal before the rule could take effect.
The Biden administration had put this rule in place for two months after coronavirus-related restrictions on asylum ended in May. The goal was to reduce the number of migrants seeking asylum, but it did not apply to unaccompanied children and had some exceptions.
The Justice Department wants to prevent the judge's ruling from being enforced and strongly believes that the rule is lawful.
Immigrant rights groups, which had sued against the rule, welcomed the judge's decision. They argued that the rule goes against U.S. law, which grants the right to asylum no matter how a person enters the country. They also said it forces migrants to seek protection in countries with weaker asylum systems and human rights protections than the United States. Additionally, the government's app, CBP One, that migrants were supposed to use, had limited appointments and was not available in enough languages.
The administration claimed that protection systems in transit countries had improved, but the judge ruled that it's not possible for some migrants to seek protection in those countries, especially considering the violence they face in Mexico.
The judge also said that the rule is illegal because it assumes that people cannot get asylum if they enter the country between official border crossings. However, Congress explicitly stated that this should not affect a person's eligibility for asylum.
Furthermore, the judge rejected the administration's argument that other ways existed for migrants to enter the U.S. While there was a program for certain migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the judge noted that not all migrants could use those pathways.
The Biden administration had also emphasized the CBP One app, which allowed migrants to schedule an appointment to seek asylum at the border. But the judge pointed out that the number of appointments available was more than the demand, leaving many asylum seekers waiting in Mexico, where they faced serious risks of violence.
The administration saw the asylum rule as an important part of its border enforcement strategy while still providing legal avenues for migrants to seek asylum. In June, Customs and Border Protection reported a 30% decrease in encounters along the southern border compared to the previous month, the lowest since February 2021.
Critics compared the rule to past efforts by President Donald Trump to limit asylum at the southern border. Although the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to limit asylum for those who didn't seek protection in a transit country before coming to the U.S., another attempt to restrict asylum applications to official border entry points was stopped by legal action and never put into effect.