On July 24, 2019, a federal judge in California has blocked the Administration from enforcing new asylum restrictions for people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco came hours after a judge in Washington decided to let the rules stand while lawsuits played out in court. Judge Tigar noted: "The effect of the Rule is to categorically deny asylum to almost anyone entering the United States at the southern border if he or she did not first apply for asylum in Mexico or another third country. Under our laws, the right to determine whether a particular group of applicants is categorically barred from eligibility for asylum is conferred on Congress. Congress has empowered the Attorney General to establish additional limitations and conditions by regulation, but only if such regulations are consistent with the existing immigration laws passed by Congress. This new Rule is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws."
Further to restricting asylum, the Administration has just signed on July 26, 2019, an agreement with Guatemala on that appears to allow the U.S. government to send certain asylum applicants to Guatemala, forcing them to seek asylum there. Immigration Impact has reported the this “Safe Third Country” agreement, will place thousands of asylum seekers at risk in a country ill-prepared to process a high volume of applications for protection and with safety problems of its own.
To avoid sending people back to a country where they could be seriously harmed, U.S. law allows any person who reaches the border to apply for asylum, with limited exceptions. Among those exceptions are individuals who could be removed to another country (Safe Third Country) where their life would not be endangered if the United States has an agreement with that country to receive them. This would not include people who are nationals of that country. The United States has only one Safe Third Country agreement – with Canada – in place since 2002. It requires asylum seekers who arrive at a port of entry along the U.S. northern border to return to the country they just passed through (the U.S. or Canada) and apply for protection there. The agreement was made with a general understanding that both nations were safe countries whose asylum systems were sufficiently robust to handle the processing of those claims.
But an arrangement of this nature with Guatemala is untenable. Currently, Guatemala is one of the leading countries from which people are fleeing to the United States due to pervasive violence, impunity, poverty, and food shortages. The U.S. Department of State advises travelers to reconsider travel to many parts of the country, noting that “violent crime, such as armed robbery and murder, is common.”