US judge questions Trump administration on asylum policy

20 November 2018 - 08:57 By Reuters
Migrants, part of a caravan traveling en route to the United States, wait in lines to enter in a sport center that is currently used as a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 15, 2018.
Migrants, part of a caravan traveling en route to the United States, wait in lines to enter in a sport center that is currently used as a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico November 15, 2018.
Image: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A US judge closely questioned the government on Monday as he weighed whether to temporarily halt an order from President Donald Trump that bars asylum for migrants who illegally cross the border with Mexico.

Trump cited an overwhelmed immigration system for his recent proclamation that officials will only process asylum claims for migrants who present themselves at an official entry point. Civil rights groups argue that Trump's November 9 order violated administrative and immigration law.

At hearing in San Francisco federal court, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar repeatedly asked a Justice Department attorney whether Trump's order was justified and supported by actual evidence.

"To say something is true does not make it true," Tigar said.

The judge did not issue a ruling during the hearing. Any decision would likely be procedural and would restore prior asylum rules while the rights groups made their case for a preliminary injunction at a future hearing.

Tigar was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama.

The hearing came as thousands of Central Americans, including a large number of children, are traveling in caravans toward the U.S. border to escape violence and poverty at home. Some have already arrived at Tijuana, a Mexican city on the border with California.

Rights groups have said immigrants are being forced to wait days or weeks at the border before they can present themselves for asylum, and the administration has been sued for deliberately slowing processing times at official ports.

At the hearing, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said the order clearly conflicted with the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows any person present in the United States to seek asylum, regardless of how they entered the country.

Gelernt said the ACLU had recently learned Mexican authorities have begun barring unaccompanied minors from applying at US ports of entry.

Mexico's migration institute said in a statement to Reuters that there was "no basis" for the ACLU's claims, noting that there had been no such reports from the United Nations or human rights groups that are monitoring the situation at the border.

Uriel Gonzalez, the head of a YMCA shelter for young migrants in Tijuana, said he had not heard of any new measures directed at unaccompanied minors. He noted there were already long lines to get a turn with US authorities.

"This can take a while because the number of migrants has overwhelmed capacity. It is too much," he said.

Caravan participants began to arrive last week in Tijuana on the Mexican side of the US  border, which has put a strain on shelters where many will wait to seek asylum. Their presence has also strained Tijuana's reputation as a welcoming city, with some residents screaming at the migrants, "Get out!"

Trump sent more than 5,000 soldiers to the 2,000-mile (3,100 km) frontier with Mexico to harden the border, although critics dismissed the move as a political stunt ahead of congressional elections on November 6.  

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