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Trump Administration Faces 2 Legal Challenges For Asylum Restrictions

Members of the migrant caravan walk to make requests for political asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border last week in Tijuana, Mexico
Members of the migrant caravan walk to make requests for political asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border last week in Tijuana, Mexico.

President Trump's effort to limit the number of people seeking asylum in the United States will face legal challenges in two different federal courts on Monday.

A federal judge in California will hear a challenge to the president's recent proclamation that requires asylum-seekers to present themselves at official ports of entry. The language of the proclamation makes clear that the administration is primarily concerned with the migrant caravan moving north through Mexico.

But a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) argues that the president's proclamation violates federal law in two ways: first, it bypasses rules requiring at least 30 days for "notice and comment" on changes in government regulations; and second, it limits asylum seekers to ports of entry. Under current federal law, migrants may apply for asylum inside the U.S. even if they entered the country illegally.

In a statement, the advocacy groups also say that the administration has been discouraging asylum-seekers who do present themselves at ports of entry:
"As documented in our case Al Otro Lado v. Nielsen, the Department of Homeland Security has a documented pattern, practice, and policy of turning asylum-seekers away from official ports of entry at the U.S. border with Mexico, thus pushing many asylum-seekers to cross the border without authorization in order to reach relative safety."
The migrant advocates are asking U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar for a temporary restraining order to stop the administration from implementing the asylum restrictions nationwide.

In a court filing late last week, lawyers for the Justice Department argued that the president has "broad discretion to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States." They said the new rule had to go into immediate effect to avoid creating a rush on the border and that the administration has the right to require asylum-seekers to present themselves at ports of entry.

The second legal challenge to the administration's asylum policy will take place in a federal court in Washington D.C. where a judge will hear arguments on whether or not domestic abuse and gang violence justify an asylum claim.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration adopted a new policy that says domestic violence and gang violence generally cannot be used as grounds for an asylum.

But immigrant rights groups say the administration ignored decades of legal precedent that says they can be grounds for asylum. And they're asking Judge Emmet Sullivan of the D.C. District Court to block the policy.

"Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems — even all serious problems — that people face every day all over the world," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June when he announced the policy change.

The lawsuit, Grace v. Sessions, was filed by the ACLU and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the UC Hastings College of the Law.

In a court document, the groups argue that barring claims of domestic violence and gang violence is "arbitrary and capricious."

NPR's Joel Rose contributed to this report.
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