Judge Says Forcing Waits In Mexico To Seek Asylum Is Illegal

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal judge ruled Thursday that the U.S. government’s practice of denying migrants a chance to apply for asylum on the Mexican border until space opens up to process claims is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant’s ruling has no immediate impact but could prevent the government from limiting entry for asylum-seekers because it says it lacks resources. It could also bring relief to some of the tens of thousands of people who put their names on unofficial waiting lists in Mexican border towns.

Bashant, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, ordered the Justice Department and plaintiffs led by Los Angeles-based advocacy group Al Otro Lado to recommend next steps by Oct. 1.

The practice of capping how many people can claim asylum at U.S. land crossings with Mexico, known as “metering,” began in 2016 under President Barack Obama when large numbers of Haitians appeared at the main crossing to San Diego from Tijuana, Mexico. It expanded across the border in 2018 under the Trump administration, spawning often-dubious waiting lists that varied sharply by Mexican border city.

The U.S. stopped accepting all asylum-seekers at border crossings in March 2020, with few exceptions, under pandemic-related authority known as Title 42. The Trump administration first invoked the authority to prevent spread of the coronavirus, and the Biden administration extended it. The judge asked both sides to explain the impact of Title 42 on her ruling.

Waiting lists continue to grow. They had more than 18,600 names in eight Mexican border cities in May, more than half in Tijuana, according to a report by the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin. Waiting lists peaked at nearly 27,000 names in August 2019.

The judge found in a 45-page ruling that the practice violated constitutional rights to due process under the law and a federal law requiring officials to screen anyone who shows up seeking asylum.

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