WASHINGTON • A federal judge has put a temporary halt to a Trump administration order denying the possibility of asylum to people who enter the United States illegally.
President Donald Trump issued the proclamation earlier this month as a matter of what he called national security, as a caravan of thousands of Central American migrants made its way through Mexico towards the US border.
US District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order on Monday against the Trump proclamation, thus granting a request from human rights groups who had sued shortly after the order was announced.
Mr Trump said only people who enter the US at official checkpoints - as opposed to sneaking across the border - can apply for asylum.
Judge Tigar wrote that the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965 states that any foreigner who arrives in the US, "whether or not at a designated port of arrival", may apply for asylum.
"The rule barring asylum for immigrants who enter the country outside a port of entry irreconcilably conflicts with the INA and the expressed intent of Congress," Mr Tigar wrote.
"Whatever the scope of the President's authority, he may not re-write the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden," he added.
The judge's restraining order remains in effect until the court decides on the case.
Mr Trump's administration has argued that he has the executive power to curb immigration in the name of national security - a power he invoked right after taking office last year with a controversial ban on travellers from several mostly Muslim countries.
The final version of the order was upheld by the US Supreme Court on June 26 after a protracted legal battle.
When the new policy was announced by the Department of Homeland Security on Nov 8, a senior administration official said it would address what he called the "historically unparalleled abuse of our immigration system" along the border with Mexico.
Human rights campaigners and other critics say that by restricting asylum seekers to border crossing points - which are already under enormous pressure - the government is effectively shutting the door on people who may truly be fleeing for their lives.
In 2018, border patrols registered over 400,000 illegal border crossers, Homeland Security said. And in the last five years, the number of those requesting asylum has risen by 2,000 per cent, it added.