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Judge blocks Biden rule that discouraged asylum-seekers from illegal border crossings

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A federal judge has blocked a key part of the Biden administration's immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. The new rules placed sharp restrictions on asylum-seekers to try to discourage them from crossing the border illegally. And immigration authorities say the rules are one reason why illegal crossings have dropped dramatically. Today's ruling puts the future of those restrictions in doubt. NPR's Joel Rose has been following the case and joins me now. So, Joel, remind us if you can. What exactly are these new rules?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Sure. They're part of a broad new strategy at the border that is supposed to push migrants to make appointments at ports of entry for interviews to begin the asylum process through a mobile app called CBP One. The strategy also includes these new rules that took effect in May, which make it harder for migrants to get asylum if they don't use that app and if they cross the border illegally after passing through Mexico or another country without seeking protection there first. Immigrant rights advocates say that that second part is basically identical to several Trump administration policies that were also initially blocked in court. And immigrant advocates have been asking the judge in this case to do the same to this policy. The Justice Department argued these rules are different because they are not a total ban on asylum and also because they're paired with that CBP One app and with other policies that open up more legal pathways for some migrants.

SUMMERS: And did this judge say anything about why he blocked these rules?

ROSE: Yes. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in Oakland, Calif., did not mince words. He found that the rules were unlawful because they impose conditions on asylum seekers that Congress did not intend. Judge Tigar vacated the rules, which is what the plaintiffs were asking him for. But he also stayed his own ruling for 14 days at the request of the Biden administration. And the Department of Justice said quickly that it would appeal.

SUMMERS: What has the reaction been to this so far?

ROSE: Immigrant rights advocates are happy with this ruling. I talked to lawyer Katrina Eiland with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, who argued the case in court last week. She said this is an important victory for asylum-seekers.

KATRINA EILAND: Our laws provide that asylum-seekers can come to this country and seek refuge and that they should be able to seek asylum regardless of how they enter the country. Our asylum laws just don't allow the government to block people from asylum on that basis.

SUMMERS: And, Joel, what about the Biden administration? Where does this all go from here?

ROSE: Well, this cannot be a surprise to the Department of Justice. I mean, this is the same judge who blocked the similar Trump-era policies. And at the hearing last week, Judge Tigar joked that he heard somewhere that, quote, "2023 was going to be a big year for sequels." Now the Justice Department will appeal, likely to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then on to the Supreme Court if necessary. And that is where things, you know, could get interesting - harder to predict what could happen there.

SUMMERS: Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, there's a lot to chew over here. But where does all of this leave border policy in the meantime?

ROSE: Well, for those 14 days while the appeals play out, it stays the same. Beyond that, it is very much in doubt. I mean, this rule was a key part of the Biden administration's plan to manage the border after the end of the pandemic restrictions known as Title 42. And the administration has argued that they're working. They say these rules are a big reason why illegal border crossings are way down. But immigrant advocates say, you know, it could well be the CBP One app and the other legal pathways to seeking asylum that are responsible for that big drop in illegal crossings. You know, and one more thing I should note - that those legal pathways are also being challenged in court by immigration hardliners who say that the administration is overstepping its authority and letting too many asylum seekers into the country through these pathways that Congress did not specifically authorize. So I think the bottom line is we're going to see a lot more litigation about the border before all of this shakes out.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Thanks, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.

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