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Judge blocks new rule that would disqualify asylum seekers convicted of crimes

Asylum seekers from Central America and Cuba follow an ICE guard into the federal building in El Paso in 2019.
Asylum seekers from Central America and Cuba follow an ICE guard into the federal building in El Paso in 2019. A judge on Thursday blocked a Trump administration rule that would have put up new roadblocks for asylum seekers convicted of a variety of crimes.
(Cedar Attanasio / Associated Press)

A federal judge has blocked a Trump administration rule due to take effect Friday that would have put up new roadblocks for asylum seekers convicted of a variety of crimes.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco said Thursday that the rule “sweeps too broadly” and was unnecessary because current federal law already includes a host of disqualifying crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering and counterfeiting.

Pangea Legal Services, which represents immigrants, and other nonprofit organizations sued after the new rule was announced last month by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.

It was set to take effect Friday, but the judge issued a temporary restraining order without an expiration date. She scheduled a Dec. 9 hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

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Illston agreed with the plaintiffs’ contention that the two government agencies exceeded their authority, and said the rule was “substantively and procedurally defective.”

The two federal departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

An asylum seeker’s chances at protection hinge on factors that seem arbitrary, according to a Union-Tribune analysis of immigration court records.

The White House has instituted a slew of measures to make asylum more difficult to obtain.

President-elect Joe Biden said on his campaign website that he would end President Trump’s “detrimental asylum policies” but has not commented on this specific rule.

While asylum has long been denied to people convicted of “particularly serious crimes,” the new rule would have added a further list of crimes that would have been disqualifying. They included convictions for domestic violence — whether felony or misdemeanor — assault or battery, reentering the country illegally, identify theft, public benefits fraud, immigrant smuggling and driving under the influence.

The rule would have also denied asylum to people convicted of crimes that an adjudicator “knows or has reason to believe” was committed to support a criminal street gang.

Asylum is for people fleeing persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a social group. It is not intended for people who migrate for economic reasons.

Migrants who are sick, or have sick children, have had their U.S. immigration hearings postponed for months

Trump has called asylum “a scam” and has introduced a string of policies against it since the U.S. became the world’s top destination for asylum seekers in 2017.

A rule proposed in June gives judges the power to reject claims without a hearing. Another rule in July lets authorities block asylum seekers from countries with widespread communicable diseases.


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