The United States Supreme court has denied the Trump administration the ability to refuse asylum to people who cross the US border “illegally”, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joining four progressive justices to deny the plan.
- The Supreme Court blocked the plan in a 5-4 vote
- San Francisco’s 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals refused Mr Trump’s plan in November
- Thousands of central Americans are seeking asylum to escape acute poverty and violence
The justices on a 5-4 vote rebuffed the administration’s bid to put on hold a California-based federal judge’s order preventing it from carrying out the policy making anyone crossing the US-Mexican border outside of an official port of entry ineligible for asylum.
The planned asylum change was a key component of Mr Trump’s hardline policies aimed at making it tougher for immigrants to enter and stay in the US.
Justice Roberts, who last month rebuked the President over his criticism of the judiciary, joined progressive Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor against the administration.
Mr Trump’s two high court appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, joined the two other conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, in dissent.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to leave the asylum ban blocked will save lives and keep vulnerable families and children from persecution,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We are pleased the court refused to allow the administration to short-circuit the usual appellate process,” he said.
The Justice Department expressed disappointment with the decision, saying the 25 nationwide injunctions against Mr Trump administration policies were “unprecedented”.
“The Court has not yet fully considered the merits of this case,” Justice Department spokesman Steven Stafford said.
“We will continue to defend the executive branch’s lawful authority over the discretionary benefit of asylum.”
Donald Trump lambasts judiciary for going against him
US District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco blocked the policy on November 19.
The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals then refused the administration’s request to lift Judge Tigar’s order.
Judge Tigar’s ruling prompted Mr Trump to call the jurist an “Obama judge” and blast the 9th Circuit in general as a “disgrace”.
The President’s comments led to an extraordinary response from the normally reticent Justice Roberts, who defended the independence of the federal judiciary and wrote in a public response to Mr Trump on November 21: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.”
The port-of-entry restrictions, due to expire after 90 days, were made through a presidential proclamation Mr Trump issued on November 9, alongside a new administration rule.
The administration has sought ways to block thousands of Central American men, women and children traveling in caravans to escape violence and poverty in their home countries from entering the US, with Mr Trump calling them a national security threat.
Irregular crossings at the southern border have dropped dramatically since the late 1970s, but in recent years, applications for asylum have ballooned as more Central American families and unaccompanied children migrate to the US.
Mr Trump’s proclamation stated that mass migration on the border had precipitated a crisis and he was acting to protect the US national interest.
His punitive policy toward asylum seekers contradicts the UNHCR’s Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, which the US has ratified.
Domestic immigration policy was crafted to alter American asylum laws that have given people fleeing persecution and violence in their homelands the ability to seek sanctuary in the US.
But the Supreme Court in June backed Mr Trump in another major immigration-related case when the justices in a 5-4 ruling endorsed the legality of the Republican president’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority nations.
Justice Roberts joined the court’s other conservatives in that ruling.
On Wednesday, a different judge blocked another of Mr Trump’s asylum-related orders, this one aimed at restricting asylum claims by people citing gang or domestic violence in their home countries.