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Judge Deals Setback to Asylum Policy   07/02 06:26


   SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A federal judge has knocked down a cornerstone border 
policy of the Trump administration that denies asylum to people who travel 
through other countries to reach the U.S.-Mexico border without first seeking 
protection in those countries.

   U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled that authorities violated federal 
rule-making procedures by not seeking public feedback before putting the policy 
into effect in July 2019.

   The impact of Kelly's ruling is diminished by a coronavirus pandemic-related 
measure that was imposed in March to quickly expel people who cross the border 
illegally and block asylum-seekers at official crossings. In May, the 
administration extended the measure indefinitely, relying on a little-known 
public health law to prevent the spread of the disease.

   The administration could appeal. Asked to comment Wednesday, the Justice 
Department said in a statement that the court's ruling was based on procedural 
claims and not about the policy's substance. The Homeland Security Department 
said it strongly disagreed with the decision and was considering options.

   Kelly, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, ruled Tuesday in 
Washington that Homeland Security officials failed to justify why they avoided 
seeking and responding to public comments as required under rule-making.

   In a similar vein last month, the Supreme Court refused to let the 
administration end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to shield 
650,000 young people from deportation, deciding the case on procedural steps.

   In his 52-page ruling, Kelly dismissed arguments that quick action was 
needed to avoid a dramatic surge of asylum-seekers at the border, saying 
evidence was lacking. He also disagreed that the administration was justified 
under its authority to set foreign policy.

   In September, the Supreme Court lifted a nationwide halt to the policy that 
was imposed by a federal judge in another case that is currently before a panel 
in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kelly said he was unmoved by the high 
court's action, which didn't provide an explanation.

   "At bottom, the Court can glean little from the Supreme Court's 
one-paragraph order other than that a majority of Justices believed the factors 
meriting a stay were satisfied," Kelly wrote.

   The administration has been relentless in rewriting rules of asylum, saying 
the system is rife with abuse. The rule at issue denies asylum to people who 
pass through another country on the way to the U.S.-Mexico border without first 
seeking protection in that country and being denied.

   Critics of the administration's policy hailed the ruling, with Mitchell 
Reich, an attorney at Hogan Lovells who argued the case, calling it a "massive 
victory for asylum-seekers and the rule of law."

   "Judge Kelly rightly concluded that the administration failed to do its 
homework in issuing this rule," Reich said. "It didn't hear from interested 
parties, and it didn't give any remotely satisfactory explanation for ignoring 
normal administrative procedures."

   The lawsuit was brought by Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition, Human 
Rights First, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services 
(RAICES) and nine asylum-seekers. It was consolidated with a case brought by 
the Tahirih Justice Center.

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