Four refugee assistance groups sued the administration of President Donald Trump in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday to challenge a new rule that severely restricts asylum applications.
The rule announced by U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan prohibits asylum seekers who have passed through another country from applying for U.S. asylum unless they sought and were refused asylum in the transit country.
The measure went into effect Tuesday.
The lawsuit led by the Berkeley-based East Bay Sanctuary Covenant claims the rule violates the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows people physically present in the U.S. to apply for asylum and states they are ineligible only if “firmly established” in a third country. It also claims Barr and McAleenan violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide a reasoned explanation and an opportunity for public comment.
The lawsuit says:
The rule “bars virtually every citizen fleeing persecution from obtaining asylum in the United States if they passed through another country on the way here.”
In particular, it excludes people fleeing “an epidemic of violence” in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the lawsuit says. The groups are represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and Center for Constitutional Rights. The lawsuit asks for an injunction blocking the ruling. The defendants in the case include Barr, McAleenan, the U.S. Justice and Homeland Security departments and federal immigration and border protection agencies and officials.
Department of Justice spokesman Alexei Woltornist said the department declines comment.
In addition to the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, the plaintiffs are Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab and the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles.
The same four groups sued in federal court in San Francisco last year to challenge another administration rule that would have allowed asylum applications only from people who entered at official ports of entry. In December, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar issued a preliminary injunction blocking that rule, and the Justice Department is now appealing.
Speaking on the new rule, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said:
“This is the Trump administration’s most extreme run at an asylum ban yet. It clearly violates domestic and international law, and cannot stand.”