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Court Approves Nationwide Injunction Against Trump Asylum Rule, Acknowledges Harm To Legal Groups

UPDATE: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the nationwide injunction approved by a federal district court on September 10.

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A federal court restored a nationwide injunction against a rule imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration to block asylum seekers.

On July 16, a rule on asylum eligibility was developed to deny asylum to individuals who enter the United States at the southern border without first applying for asylum in Mexico or a third country. It is commonly referred to as the third-country rule.

The District Court for the Northern District of California found [PDF] a nationwide injunction instead of an injunction limited to the court’s jurisdiction is necessary to “provide complete relief” to the organizations that will be harmed by the rule.

Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, and the Central American Resource Center moved for a nationwide injunction because the legal and social service organizations help asylum seekers outside of the Ninth Circuit. The third-country rule would divert resources from the organizations and hugely impact their ability to assist asylum seekers.

“We are gratified the court recognized the reality on the ground, which is that Trump’s asylum ban is affecting thousands of asylum seekers all across the border—just as it was unlawfully intended to do—and not just at California ports of entry,” Center for Constitutional Rights legal director Baher Azmy declared.

Melissa Crow, a senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, suggested, “This ruling levels the playing field for all the vulnerable individuals and families seeking refuge in the United States. With this decision, regardless of where they cross the border, these people should be able to seek asylum.”

Judge Jon S. Tigar highlighted two of the plaintiff organizations, which need the protection of a nationwide injunction.

Al Otro Lado is in California as well as Tijuana, Mexico. It works with asylum-seekers who often relocate or are detained outside the Ninth Circuit, which covers Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

“If the injunction is limited to the Ninth Circuit, it will force Al Otro Lado to provide a much broader range of advice to pre-entry asylum seekers to account for different outcomes based on where they choose to enter the country and travel within it,” Tigar wrote. “This will require the expenditure of ‘significant organizational resources regarding training materials, staff time, resources, and capacity.’”

Law Lab is another nonprofit that will be impacted. It supports legal service providers at immigrant detention centers throughout the United States. But the third-country rule, if allowed to go into effect, would force the Law Lab to entirely redesign their templates and workshops for assisting asylum seekers.

“Its direct representation work will ‘become significantly more complicated and burdensome,’” Tigar additionally noted.

Asylum seekers would have to apply for relief under the Convention Against Torture, which Tigar pointed out has a “a higher standard of proof than asylum, [does] not allow for derivative applications, and are more time-consuming cases to handle.” Law Lab would be “forced to serve fewer people overall because of the increased time burden required for a subset of all cases.”

Previously, Al Otro Lado and individual asylum seekers challenged a “turnback policy” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). They linked high-level officials in the Trump administration to efforts to restrict access at ports of entry.

“Every day we work with survivors of horrific physical and sexual violence, doing our best to provide the necessary resources to extremely vulnerable individuals. They come to our border to seek safety for themselves and their children,” Al Otro Lado Border Rights Project director Nicole Ramos shared.

Ramos continued, “The United States, in implementing the ‘turnback policy,’ cavalierly rejects thousands of these individuals, retraumatizing them and stranding them alone and destitute. It is hard to overstate the cruelty with which CBP operates.”

Unfortunately, asylum seekers face a Trump administration universally opposed to asylum for certain racial and ethnic groups. Victories such as this one send a message to the administration, but they do not guarantee asylum seekers will be allowed to seek safety and assistance.

Like Crow stated, “Far too many obstacles remain, as this administration’s war on asylum-seekers appears to know no bounds.”

Correction (Sept. 11): This article previously indicated it was the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that backed a nationwide injunction. That is wrong. It was the District Court of the Northern District of California.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."