National Politics

Supreme Court rules for Trump on asylum ban at southern border

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled for President Donald Trump and cleared the way for his administration to enforce a ban on nearly all asylum-seekers arriving at the southern border.

The justices by a 7-2 vote granted an emergency appeal from Trump's lawyers and set aside orders from judges in California who had blocked Trump's new rule from taking effect.

In a one-paragraph order, the high court said the injunctions issued by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco "are stayed in full pending" while the government appeals.

While it is not a final ruling on the issue, the decision is nonetheless a major victory for Trump and his effort to restrict immigration because it allows the asylum ban to be enforced at the southern border.

The president praised the decision, tweeting Wednesday night, "BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!"

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"Once again the executive branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecutions," she said. "Granting a stay pending appeal should be an extraordinary act. Unfortunately, it appears the government has treated this exception as the new normal."

It is the second time in recent weeks that Trump and his lawyers have succeeded by going directly to the high court to challenge an injunction handed down by judges in California.

In late July, the justices by a 5-4 vote cleared the way for Trump to spend $2.5 billion from the military budget to pay for a border wall. Congress had refused to appropriate the money, and a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., and the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco blocked the transfer.

Trump has chafed at the asylum law and its promise of protection for foreigners who are fleeing persecution and violence in their homeland. It allows those who arrive at the border to ask for asylum and to have their claims heard by an immigration judge.

But on July 16, the administration announced migrants would be deemed "ineligible" for asylum if they had not sought and been denied such legal protection in Mexico. They said the fleeing migrants should be required to seek asylum in the first safe country. The practical impact of the rule would be to deny asylum to nearly all migrants from Central America who by the thousands travel through Mexico to reach the U.S. border.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of four migrant aid groups and alleged the new rule conflicted with an 1980 law and its open-door policy for asylum-seekers.

Tigar, the judge in San Francisco, agreed and issued a nationwide injunction that barred enforcement of the new rule. The 9th Circuit Court upheld this order, but restricted its reach to California and Arizona.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court in late August in the case of Barr vs. East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. He urged the justices to lift the injunction and allow the new rule to take effect immediately. Doing so will "alleviate a crushing burden on the U.S. asylum system," he said.

ACLU lawyers called the ban "a blatant end-run" around Congress around the law and said the court should not endorse "an expansive view of executive authority to rewrite the statute."

Lee Gelernt, the ACLU lawyer who had urged the courts to block the asylum ban, said "the stakes are enormous. If the ban can be applied now, it will effectively mean the end of the asylum process Congress has maintained at the southern border for four decades, since it first enacted the nation's asylum laws." But he also called Wednesday's order "just a temporary step. We're hopeful we will prevail at the end of the day."

But it will likely be at least a year and two before the Supreme Court would take up the case and rule finally whether Trump's order is legal. In the interim, the administration will be able to enforce the ban.