A federal judge on Friday blocked the Trump administration from implementing a rule, set to take effect next week, that would have closed the doors of the United States to most asylum seekers.
The sweeping clampdown on asylum would have prevented a large swath of people from qualifying for protection in the United States by narrowing eligibility. Applicants who had not first sought asylum in a transit country through which they had passed; had lived in the United States for a year without permission or had claimed persecution based on sexual orientation would be disqualified.
Though President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. could take action to reverse the policy once in office, it would take several months to undo it because it had already been finalized.
Judge James Donato of the United States District Court for Northern California issued a nationwide injunction on procedural grounds, saying that the acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, lacked authority to impose the rule because he had not been properly confirmed for his position. In his decision, Judge Donato pointed out that it was the fifth time that a court had ruled against the government on the same grounds.
“In effect, the government keeps crashing the same car into a gate, hoping that someday it might break through,” the judge, an Obama appointee, wrote in his 14-page opinion.
Justice Department lawyers had argued that the restrictions were necessary to curb abuse of an asylum system that they said was overwhelmed with frivolous claims. Immigrant advocates and lawyers said that the policy would have spelled the demise of the U.S. asylum system.
“The rule would have been the death knell for many asylum seekers,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School. “The court’s decision today leaves the door open for people fleeing persecution.”
The rule would have gutted the U.S. asylum system and violated both U.S. and international law, he said.