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Federal judge blocks new criminal disqualifiers for asylum-seekers

A federal judge said the rule “sweeps too broadly” and was unnecessary because current federal law already includes a host of disqualifying crimes.

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge on Thursday blocked a Trump administration rule about to take effect that would have put up new roadblocks for asylum-seekers convicted of a variety of crimes.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco said the rule “sweeps too broadly” and was unnecessary because current federal law already includes a host of disqualifying crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering and counterfeiting.

Pangea Legal Services, a legal service provider for immigrants, and other non-profits sued after the rule was announced last month by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Justice. It was set to take effect Friday.

The judge issued a temporary restraining order without an expiration date. She scheduled a Dec. 9 hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

Illston agreed with the plaintiffs' contention that the two government agencies exceeded their authority and said the rule was “substantively and procedurally defective.”

The departments of Homeland Security and Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

The White House has instituted a slew of measures to make asylum more difficult to obtain.

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President-elect Joe Biden said on his campaign website that he will end Trump’s “detrimental asylum policies” but has not commented on this specific rule.

While asylum has long been denied to people convicted of “particularly serious crimes,” the new rule would have added a litany of crimes that would have been disqualifying. They included convictions for domestic violence — whether a felony or misdemeanor — assault or battery, re-entering the country illegally, identify theft, public benefits fraud, immigrant smuggling and driving under the influence.

The rule would have also denied asylum to people convicted of crimes that an adjudicator “knows or has reason to believe” was committed to supporting a criminal street gang.

Asylum is for people fleeing persecution for their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a social group. It isn’t intended for people who migrate for economic reasons.

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President Donald Trump has called asylum “a scam” and has introduced a string of policies against it since the U.S. became the world’s top destination for asylum-seekers in 2017.

Another rule proposed in June gives judges the power to reject claims without a hearing. Several new factors weigh against asylum, including failure to pay taxes.

A rule in July lets authorities block asylum-seekers from countries with widespread communicable disease.

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Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat contributed from San Diego.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2019 file photo, immigrants seeking asylum hold hands as they leave a cafeteria at the ICE South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. The isolation of at least three families at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's detention center in Dilley, has raised new fears of the coronavirus spreading through a facility that has long been accused of providing substandard medical care. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)