A federal judge in San Francisco has temporarily blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a presidential proclamation that barred asylum for migrants who cross from Mexico into the U.S. illegally.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar late Monday issued a temporary restraining order hours after hearing arguments in a case that could determine the fate of some members of a migrant caravan arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Whatever the scope of the President's authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden," Tigar wrote in his decision.
Civil rights groups sued the administration over President Donald Trump's order earlier this month, which he justified as a response to the caravan he decried before the midterm election.
Led by the American Civil Liberties Union, the groups said Trump’s move is at odds with the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows migrants to have their asylum claims processed, no matter how they arrive in the country.
The regulations were set to be in effect for three months. They could have made it more difficult for thousands of migrants to avoid deportation if they cross into the U.S. between ports of entry.
”We’re not saying everyone is going to get asylum. Not everyone’s claim is going to be successful,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt after the hearing. “But there certainly are going to be successful claims, and there has to be a process. Congress has set up the process. Congress has spoken very clearly to it. And this administration has now changed it."
During the hearing Scott Stewart, a Department of Justice lawyer, called asylum a discretionary benefit. Stewart said Trump’s order addresses what he called the “crushing strain of unlawful entries at the southern border.”
Each year, an estimated 70,000 people claim asylum after crossing between ports of entry, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Last year, the number of people arrested by the Border Patrol for crossing into the U.S. illegally fell to a 46-year low.
Judge Tigar questioned the validity of the argument that there’s a crisis at the border, and whether Trump’s approach would solve it.
During the hearing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted photos from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, showing border and military personnel blocking the northbound lanes, which were temporarily closed to “initiate additional port hardening efforts.”
Nielsen also wrote: “some members of the caravan are purposely causing disruptions at our border ports of entry. There is a legal and illegal way to enter the US.”
The Pentagon is reportedly preparing to start a reduction of the nearly 6,000 troops Trump dispatched to the border. The active-duty troops Trump sent there could start leaving as early as this week, Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan told Politico, adding that all of them are expected to be home by the end of the year.
Both sides in the asylum case are due back in court on Dec. 19.
The Associated Press contributing reporting to this story.