Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Court Halts Trump's Restrictions on Asylum
Judge Jon S. Tigar (N.D. Cal.) issued a temporary restraining order today against President Trump's move to prevent aliens along the Mexico border from applying for asylum except at ports of entry. The court ruled that government action violated the plain terms of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, and, alternatively, that there were "serious questions" about whether the government could bypass notice-and-comment procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act (as it did).
The order applies nationwide.
The ruling strikes a substantial blow against President Trump's effort to restrict aliens' ability to apply for asylum. The next step is a show-cause hearing on December 19, during which Judge Tigar will hear arguments whether the government "should not be enjoined from taking any action continuing to implement the Rule and ordered to return to the pre-Rule practices for processing asylum applications, pending the final disposition of this action."
DOJ and DHS published a joint interim rule, bypassing notice-and-comment procedures under the APA's "military or foreign affairs function" and "good cause" exemptions, that renders an alien categorically ineligible for asylum "if the alien is subject to a presidential proclamation or other presidential order suspending or limiting the entry of aliens along the southern border with Mexico . . . ." President Trump then issued a presidential proclamation (claiming authority under 8 U.S.C. Secs. 1182(f) and 1185(a)) suspending "[t]he entry of any alien into the United States across the international boundary between the United States and Mexico" for ninety days, but exempts "any alien who enters the United States at a port of entry and properly presents for inspection."
The problem is that this runs headlong into the INA. 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1158(a)(1) (emphasis added) provides:
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum . . . .
In short: the government's rule violates the statute. "Basic separation of powers principles dictate that an agency may not promulgate a rule or regulation that renders Congress's words a nullity."
The court rejected the government's argument that its rule is consistent with the statute, because the statute says that an alien can apply for asylum, while the rule uses the port-of-entry requirement to render an alien ineligible for asylum. "The argument strains credulity. To say that one may apply for something that one has no right to receive is to render the right to apply a dead letter. There is simply no way to harmonize the two."
The court went on to say that there were "serious questions" about the government's invocation of the "foreign affairs" and "good cause" exceptions to the APA's notice-and-comment requirements. Although the court didn't have to rule on the exceptions (because it held that the rule violates the plain terms of the INA), it did, for completeness.