The American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Constitutional Rights sued President Trump and other officials Friday, saying new restrictions on how people can seek asylum violate federal law.
“The government’s blatant disregard for the rights of asylum seekers cannot stand,” said Melissa Crow, a Southern Poverty Law Center senior supervising attorney, in a statement.
The new policy says migrants can only seek asylum if they “present themselves for inspection” at an official port of entry. Those who enter the country “unlawfully through the southern border” won’t be eligible to do so, Trump said in a “presidential proclamation” released Friday.
The civil-liberties groups say federal law explicitly says immigrants don’t have to pass through a port of entry to claim asylum. Most asylum seekers who enter the country and are then apprehended show up for court hearings as instructed, the groups say, citing Department of Justice data.
Waiting for processing at official border crossings, where asylum processing can drag on for days or weeks, can be highly dangerous, they argue.
“The region of Mexico near the border with the United States is a particularly violent area with limited law enforcement capacity,” according to the complaint in the lawsuit. “Asylum seekers turned back from a port of entry have been raped, beaten, and kidnapped and held for ransom by cartel members waiting outside.”
They also argue that Department of Justice and Homeland Security officials didn’t follow proper procedures in issuing new rules with minimal notice.
Trump, who made a so-called migrant caravan a central issue in the midterm elections, said in his proclamation that the presence of groups traveling through Mexico from Central America leaves no time for delay.
“The continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border has precipitated a crisis and undermines the integrity of our borders,” he said. “I therefore must take immediate action to protect the national interest, and to maintain the effectiveness of the asylum system for legitimate asylum seekers who demonstrate that they have fled persecution and warrant the many special benefits associated with asylum.”