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Civil Rights Groups Immediately Sue as Trump Tries to Block Asylum Seekers

After President Donald Trump signed a proclamation blocking any migrant caught crossing the southern border from claiming asylum, multiple civil rights groups immediately sued the administration on Friday, arguing that the new executive policy violates both United States and international law.

"President Trump's new asylum ban is illegal. Neither the president nor his cabinet secretaries can override the clear commands of U.S. law," Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrant Rights Project, said in a statement. "This action ... tries to take away protections from individuals facing persecution."

The ACLU, joined by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed the lawsuit in federal court on Friday.

Existing U.S. law allows for any foreigner currently in the country to claim asylum—the right to stay in the U.S. because returning to one's place of origin would lead directly to persecution or other dangers. Federal law states that "[a]ny alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States" can claim asylum. However, with the new proclamation, the Trump administration limits where individuals can seek asylum to official ports of entry on the border.

Besides the ACLU's argument that constraining asylum seekers to official ports of entry is illegal, there is a bevy of evidence that ports of entry are currently overwhelmed (even though immigration across the southern border is at historically low levels). Insufficient staffing and poor management have led officials at ports of entry to consistently deny migrants the ability to even begin the process of seeking asylum.

In October, a report from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General found that Customs and Border Protection officials at ports of entry used "metering" processes to slow the rate at which migrants could enter and apply for asylum. Normally, asylum seekers can enter the port and begin the first stages of processing for their claims. However, when the ports practiced "metering," agents would stand out at the border and deny migrants entry into the port, explaining that there was not currently space to process them. Though policy explicitly forbids officers from discouraging migrants from waiting, the report found the officials often told migrants to return later instead.

The report acknowledged that this likely led directly to illegal border crossings, as migrants, after being told multiple times by officials to come back later, eventually decided to attempt a more dangerous crossing.

"The asylum ban, coupled with CBP's widespread practice and policy of turning back individuals attempting to seek asylum at ports of entry, would effectively deny protection to thousands of vulnerable individuals," Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC, said in a statement. "The government's blatant disregard for the rights of asylum seekers cannot stand."