Civil rights groups file lawsuit challenging new Trump asylum restrictions

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Three civil rights and advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging the Trump administration’s latest move to widely restrict asylum for migrants coming to the southern border.”This is the Trump administration’s most extreme run at an asylum ban yet,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “It clearly violates domestic and international law, and cannot stand.”The ACLU was joined by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights in the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The suit was filed on behalf of immigrant rights groups — the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab and the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles.”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,” Baher Azmy, the legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in the statement.The lawsuit is asking for a declaration “that the interim final rule is unlawful and invalid,” as well as a preliminary and permanent injunction stopping its implementation and enforcement.On Monday, the Trump administration announced the rule broadly restricting asylum for migrants who pass through another country on their journey to the United States but do not attempt to seek asylum there first.The sweeping change was President Donald Trump’s latest policy aimed at restricting the influx of Central American families seeking asylum at the southern border but could affect many of the migrants traveling from around the world who come to the U.S.-Mexico border.The rule, published Tuesday in the Federal Register, was set to go into effect immediately and applies to migrants who enter or arrive at the U.S. border on or after the effective date.Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a statement Monday announcing the new interim final rule that it “will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States and enable DHS and DOJ to more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border, leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey.”Attorney General William Barr called the interim final rule a “lawful exercise of authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum.”McAleenan and Barr are both named in the lawsuit, as well as acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection John Sanders, and acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Matthew Albence.The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit and the Department of Justice declined comment.In the past, federal judges have blocked other attempts by the administration to change the asylum policy, most notably the president’s effort to deny the protection to anyone who did not enter the U.S. through a legal port of entry.The rule has three limited exceptions, for migrants who were denied asylum in at least one other country before the U.S., migrants who can show they meet the definition of a “victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons,” or migrants who came to the U.S. through countries which are not parties to three international treaties regarding asylum and refugees.The rule does not prevent migrants for two different forms of protection, withholding of removal or relief under the Convention against Torture. Those forms of relief face a much higher standard of proof than the standard in credible fear interviews, the first step in the asylum process, and are more limited forms of relief than asylum.The change is a unilateral move by the Trump administration and has not been agreed to by Mexico. American officials were negotiating a similar deal with Guatemala, which would have required immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras to apply for asylum there. But that deal, and a meeting with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, was abruptly called off Sunday after the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled against the proposal.Immigrant rights groups denounced the rule as the “most egregious” and “extreme” policy proposed by the president targeting asylum.Under U.S. and international law, a person may seek asylum based on persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. As a signatory to an international asylum treaty, the U.S. has a legal obligation to provide protection and certain rights to people who arrive at the border seeking asylum.Daniella SilvaDaniella Silva is a reporter for NBC News, specializing in immigration and inclusion issues, as well as coverage of Latin America.



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