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SPLC sues Trump administration over new rule that makes migrants who pass through other countries ineligible for asylum

The SPLC and its partners filed a lawsuit and an emergency motion this week seeking to block a new Trump administration rule that categorically bars asylum for migrants who cross the southern border without applying for and being denied asylum in any country that they pass through on their way to the U.S.

“This administration’s relentless war on asylum seekers is nothing short of despicable,” said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney at the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “Through policy after policy, this administration has manufactured the crisis at our southern border. The new rule would only make this situation worse, while jeopardizing the safety and security of countless migrants fleeing persecution.” 

Most asylum seekers from Central America, for example, must travel through Mexico or Guatemala, which are not safe. In Mexico, migrants face many of the same threats from gangs and corrupt government officials as in the countries they are fleeing. What’s more, Guatemala does not have a fair, functioning asylum system, according to the lawsuit.

“The Rule is a part of an unlawful effort to significantly undermine, if not virtually repeal, the U.S asylum system at the southern border, and cruelly closes our doors to refugees fleeing persecution, forcing them to return to harm,” the lawsuit states.

The rule, which went into effect on Tuesday, violates the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), in which Congress sought to prevent the horrors that were visited on refugees during World War II. Congress specified in the INA that a noncitizen could only be denied asylum due to her relationship with a transit country if she was firmly resettled there or was subject to a safe third-country agreement. 

The SPLC filed the lawsuit on Tuesday, in collaboration with its partners at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. The emergency motion  was filed earlier today.

The lawsuit follows up on a complaint the SPLC, the ACLU and the CCR filed last year, prompting a judge to block the Trump administration from denying asylum to migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry.

related lawsuit filed by the SPLC, CCR and the American Immigration Council challenges U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) policy and practice of turning back asylum seekers who present themselves at ports of entry through metering and other tactics. That case, Al Otro Lado v. McAleenan, was filed in July 2017, and is currently pending in federal court in San Diego.

This week’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of organizations that advocate on behalf of asylum seekers, including East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab and CARECEN. The suit explains how the new rule will frustrate these organizations’ missions and force them to divert resources away from other programs.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said, “This is the Trump administration’s most extreme run at an asylum ban yet. It clearly violates domestic and international law, and cannot stand.”

Baher Azmy, legal director at the CCR, agreed: This is the latest — and deeply dangerous — effort by the Trump administration to inflict maximal cruelty on vulnerable people fleeing desperate conditions for safety here. This rule also serves to project the administration’s rejection of the fundamental, international post-war consensus that human rights matter. They still do, and this suit seeks to vindicate their value.”

Photo by Christian Chavez/AP Images