Supreme Court rejects Trump plea to enforce asylum ban

The US Supreme Court on Friday dealt a setback to President Donald Trump by refusing to allow his administration to implement new rules prohibiting asylum for people who cross the US border in between official ports of entry, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four liberal justices in denying the request.

The justices on a 5-4 vote rebuffed the administration’s bid to put on hold a California-based federal judge’s order preventing it from carrying out the policy making anyone crossing the US-Mexican border outside of an official port of entry ineligible for asylum.

The planned asylum change was a key component of Trump’s hardline policies aimed at making it tougher for immigrants to enter and stay in the United States.

Roberts, who last month rebuked Trump over his criticism of the judiciary, joined liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor against the administration. Trump’s two high court appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, joined the two other conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, in dissent.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to leave the asylum ban blocked will save lives and keep vulnerable families and children from persecution. We are pleased the court refused to allow the administration to short-circuit the usual appellate process,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which challenged Trump’s policy.

San Francisco-based US District Judge Jon Tigar blocked the policy on November 19. The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals then refused the administration’s request to lift Tigar’s order. 

Tigar’s ruling prompted Trump to call the jurist an “Obama judge” and blast the 9th Circuit in general as a “disgrace”. Tigar was appointed to the bench by Democratic former President Barack Obama.

Trump’s comments led to an extraordinary response from the normally reticent Roberts, who defended the independence of the federal judiciary and wrote in a public response to Trump on November 21, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said.

The port-of-entry restrictions, due to expire after 90 days, were made through a presidential proclamation Trump issued on November 9 alongside a new administration rule.

Other setbecks

The ruling comes as Trump continues his efforts to sow fear over the thousands of refugees and migrants who have made their way from Central America to the US-Mexico border since mid-October. Many are fleeing violence, political persecution or extreme poverty. 

Since arriving at the border, those part of the collective exodus who wish to apply for asylum have been told that they may have to wait up to two months before being able to claim asylum in the US. At the port of entry in Tijuana, among other locations, migrants and refugees are managing an informal list of those wishing to cross into the US to apply.

This week, the US announced that it would send some asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait out their immigration hearings, a move rights groups say will put migrants and refugees in danger. 

Separately, a judge on Wednesday blocked policies put in place by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year that made it harder for individuals fleeing domestic violence and gang violence to claim asylum. 

In June, the Supreme Court backed Trump in another major immigration-related case when the justices in a 5-4 ruling endorsed the legality of the Republican president’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority nations. Roberts joined the court’s other conservatives in that ruling.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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