EL PASO, Texas — Advocates filed a pair of lawsuits Tuesday, seeking to stop implementation of the Trump administration’s tough new asylum procedures.
Both lawsuits, one filed in San Francisco federal court, the other one in Washington, D.C., allege that requiring migrants to file asylum claims in the first foreign country they set foot in violates two federal laws and should be declared unlawful.
The lawsuits filed by groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, among others, allege that the new rules go contrary to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
INA allows “any alien who is physically present in the United States,” regardless if he or she arrived at a port of entry or not, may be allowed to apply for asylum, the lawsuit states. The only exceptions are if the migrant already was “firmly resettled” in another country, or is sent to apply from a third country designated through a bilateral agreement. APA requires that adequate public notice, such as 30 days, be given before any major rule change.
The new rules were supposed to be implemented on Tuesday. However, Juarez officials said they would continue signing up new asylum seekers and managing the waiting list — known as “metering” — on behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) until told otherwise.
U.S. authorities continued to see people who claimed to be asylum seekers throughout the day. Twelve migrants were allowed to cross over from Tijuana, Mexico on Tuesday morning, and 10 more came over to El Paso from Juarez.
In an email Tuesday afternoon, CBP El Paso spokesman Roger Maier said “at this point, we continue to operate as we have.”
And Taylor Levy, an El Paso immigration attorney, pointed out that the migrants who crossed the Paso del Norte Bridge on Tuesday “did not really go to an asylum hearing.”
“They’re going over to get arrested. What will happen to them is they would either get a notice-to-appear, which is they will have a court hearing, or expedited removal, which is they’re going to have a credible fear interview,” Levy said.
It’s not necessary to pass an interview to get a court date, Levy said, and what happens next is that the migrant can be released to a shelter in El Paso like Annunciation House, or be placed under the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program and returned to Mexico to await a hearing.
“The new rules didn’t change anything about how that functions,” Levy said. “If anyone who crossed after today is sent back under MPP and the lawsuit doesn’t work, what that means is when they go to their first hearing they will not be able to claim asylum, but they can still qualify for withholding of removal” under certain circumstances.
Tension builds in Juarez
Migrants and officials here breathed a sigh of relief early Tuesday, as CBP continued to call migrants on a waiting list.
Officials in Juarez were concerned about possible disturbances if CBP suspended the metering procedure. The last time CBP had a two-day lapse in calling people waiting in Juarez, a group of about 200 Cubans and Central Americans tried to rush the Paso del Norte Bridge and CBP officers in riot gear prevented them from getting across.
Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua State Population Council in Juarez, said officials in that city were on stand-by in the early hours of Tuesday, but no protests materialized.
In Juarez, word of the new policy has started to filter down to some of the 5,500 migrants on the waiting lists.
“It would be impossible to go back to another country. Those places aren’t safe for us,” said Vicente, a Cuban migrant stranded in Juarez while his number is called in El Paso. “If they don’t want us here, they should let us apply in Canada. Canada is a very safe country.”
Other Cubans — who comprise the majority of asylum seekers stranded in Juarez, according to Valenzuela — said they escaped the island flying to countries friendly to the communist regime. They said they fear being turned in if they’re forced to apply for U.S. asylum in places like Venezuela or Nicaragua, in addition to the expense of traveling to those countries more than 2,000 miles from the U.S. border.
Valenzuela said Juarez officials will continue monitoring the situation.