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A Trump administration initiative to curb asylum claims by Central Americans seeking entry into the U.S. was thwarted by a California federal judge, who restored a nationwide injunction that blocks the restrictions from being enforced.
U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar in Oakland said in a 14-page order that blocking the rules across the U.S. was the only practical way to proceed while the asylum restrictions are challenged in court. The judge previously ruled that the restrictions were likely unlawful.
Monday’s court order almost certainly won’t be the last word in the litigation.
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Judge Tigar, who was appointed by former President Obama, first blocked the asylum restrictions nationwide in July, only to see an appeals court narrow his injunction last month. That latter ruling, from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the restrictions couldn’t be enforced against Central Americans who arrive at the border in California and Arizona, states that are within that judicial circuit. But the appeals court allowed the White House to enforce the rules in New Mexico and Texas, which are outside of the court’s jurisdiction.
The Ninth Circuit, however, left open the possibility that Judge Tigar could again block the rules across the U.S. if he could offer stronger legal rationale for doing so. The judge took that path Monday, providing additional explanations for why he reached his decision.
“The court continues to recognize the gravity of this situation and the reality that asylum-seekers face grave danger along the entire southern border,” said
an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case for the plaintiffs.
The Trump administration already has an emergency appeal in the case pending with the Supreme Court. In it, the administration is seeking to enforce the asylum restrictions across the U.S. while the litigation continues. The justices could act any day on that request.
“Immigration and border security policy cannot be run by any single district court judge who decides to issue a nationwide injunction,” the White House said in a statement. “This ruling is a gift to human smugglers and traffickers and undermines the rule of law.”
The restrictions, issued by the Trump administration in July, would virtually cut off access to the U.S. asylum system for those arriving on foot from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The rules say migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border have to seek asylum—and be denied—in another country they pass through first.
Many of the administration’s plans to curtail border crossings have bogged down in the courts or faced bureaucratic challenges.
President Trump during his 2016 campaign said he would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which Mexico would pay for. Instead, Mr. Trump has declared an emergency along the border and redirected funds earmarked for the military after failing to get Congress to appropriate the level of funding he was seeking.
Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said Monday that the administration has built about 65 miles of wall in areas where previous barriers existed. Asked repeatedly about new portions of a wall, he said he expected 450 to 500 miles to be finished by the end of 2020. Mr. Morgan also said that apprehensions at the southern border fell 22% in August to 64,006, from 82,055 in July.
Mr. Morgan declined to say when the administration would break ground on new sections of a border wall, adding that the cost of the president’s demand for black paint and other anticlimbing features would limit how far the government could extend a barrier.
—Jess Bravin and Michael C. Bender contributed to this article.
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