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Judge blocks Biden administration's new rules for asylum-seekers at the border

A migrant in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, displays the CBP One app used to apply for an appointment to claim asylum in the U.S.
Gilles Clarenne
AFP via Getty Images
A migrant in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, displays the CBP One app used to apply for an appointment to claim asylum in the U.S.

Updated July 25, 2023 at 8:13 PM ET

A federal judge has blocked the Biden administration's new rules for asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in Oakland, Calif., found the rules unlawful because they impose conditions on asylum-seekers that Congress did not intend.

Tigar stayed his own ruling for 14 days, giving the Biden administration a chance to appeal before it takes effect.

The asylum rules, which took effect in May, make it harder for migrants to get asylum if they cross the border illegally after passing through Mexico or another country without seeking protection there first.

Tigar wrote that "noncitizens who enter between ports of entry, using a manner of entry that Congress expressly intended should not affect access to asylum."

The judge's decision was not unexpected. At a hearing last week, Tigar joked that he heard somewhere that "2023 was going to be a big year for sequels." Tigar blocked a similar policy during the Trump administration, and immigrant advocates had urged him to do the same in this case.

Immigrant advocates hailed that ruling as an important victory for asylum-seekers.

"The court got it right," said Melissa Crow, director of litigation at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, which helped bring the lawsuit. "President Biden's asylum ban violates our laws and makes a mockery of our asylum system."

The union that represents asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who conduct initial screening interviews with asylum-seekers, also celebrated the judge's ruling.

"U.S. and international law does not give the government the authority to deter bona fide refugees from seeking asylum or place them at risk of harm if returned to the countries from which they fled," said Michael Knowles, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees Council 119, which represents the asylum officers.

At the hearing last week, a lawyer for the Justice Department argued that the Biden administration's policy is different from the Trump-era version, in part because it's paired with new legal pathways for migrants seeking protection.

The Justice Department immediately said it would appeal the ruling.

"The Justice Department disagrees with the district court's ruling today," a DOJ spokesperson wrote in a statement, calling the policy a "lawful exercise of the broad authority granted by the immigration laws."

The number of migrants crossing the border illegally dropped sharply in May and June, after the new rule took effect. The Biden administration says the decline is due in part to the new asylum rules — along with a mobile app called CBP One, which migrants can use to schedule interviews at official ports of entry, the first step toward filing a claim for asylum.

The Biden administration's border policies have also been challenged in court by Republican-led states. They argue that immigration authorities are releasing too many migrants into the country to pursue their asylum claims.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.