The Biden administration’s efforts to control the ongoing border crisis hit a major obstacle on Tuesday when a federal judge, Jon Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, blocked a key rule introduced in May. The rule aimed to make migrants ineligible for asylum if they entered the U.S. illegally and failed to utilize the expanded lawful pathways set up by the federal government.
Legal Challenge from Left-Wing Immigration Groups
Judge Tigar’s decision came in response to a lawsuit from a coalition of left-wing immigration groups, arguing that the rule was akin to a Trump-era transit ban that had also been blocked.
The judge ruled that the “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” rule was “both substantively and procedurally invalid.” However, he has granted a 14-day delay before the ruling takes effect, allowing the administration time to appeal.
The contested rule formed a crucial part of the Biden administration’s strategy to address the expiration of the Title 42 public health order in May. It created a presumption that migrants entering the U.S. illegally would be ineligible for asylum if they didn’t first apply for asylum in a country they passed through.
The administration argued that this would discourage irregular migration and encourage the use of expanded legal pathways, such as the controversial CBP One app, which offered daily appointments for entry at ports of entry.
However, the rule’s presumption of ineligibility could be challenged if migrants could demonstrate exceptional circumstances. The administration maintained that this rule differed from the Trump-era travel ban, as it allowed for rebuttals and didn’t apply to unaccompanied minors.
Left-Wing Activists and the ACLU’s Victory
The rule had drawn strong criticism from left-wing immigration activist groups, who deemed it cruel and restrictive for foreign nationals seeking asylum in the U.S. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), leading the legal challenge, celebrated the judge’s ruling as a victory for migrants’ rights.
Judge Tigar, appointed during the Obama administration, blocked the rule based on concerns about the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice procedures. He argued that the 30-day notice period provided by the administration was insufficient, given the rule’s complexity and potential impact on asylum seekers.
The ruling poses a significant blow to the Biden administration’s immigration policies, as the rule had played a central role in managing the post-Title 42 surge. Despite the administration pointing to a decline in encounters in June, the judge dismissed claims that blocking the rule would lead to a return of higher border encounters.
The administration is set to appeal the decision and seek a stay on the judge’s order. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) remains confident that the rule is lawful and essential in ensuring consequences for unlawful entry.
The Path Forward
As the legal battle continues, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urged migrants to use lawful pathways and warned against the false promises of smugglers. He emphasized the administration’s commitment to delivering consequences for unlawful entry while also providing safe and orderly pathways for those seeking asylum.
In the coming days, Mayorkas is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, where he will likely address the ruling and the administration’s next steps in handling the border crisis.