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Admin Faces First Asylum Lawsuit       06/13 06:17

   A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the Biden administration on 
Wednesday over President Joe Biden's recent directive that effectively halts 
asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs little from a similar 
move by the Trump administration that was blocked by the courts.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the Biden 
administration on Wednesday over President Joe Biden's recent directive that 
effectively halts asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs 
little from a similar move by the Trump administration that was blocked by the 
courts.

   The lawsuit -- filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on 
behalf of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Refugee and Immigrant 
Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES -- is the first test of the 
legality of Biden's sweeping crackdown on the border, which came after months 
of internal White House deliberations and is designed in part to deflect 
political attacks against the president on his handling of immigration.

   "By enacting an asylum ban that is legally indistinguishable from the Trump 
ban we successfully blocked, we were left with no choice but to file this 
lawsuit," said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU.

   The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once 
encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day. It went 
into effect immediately because the latest figures were far higher, at about 
4,000 daily.

   The restrictions would be in effect until two weeks after those daily 
encounter numbers are at or below 1,500 per day, under a seven-day average. But 
it's far from clear when the numbers would dip that low; the last time was in 
July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

   The order went into effect June 5, and Biden administration officials have 
said they expected record levels of deportations.

   But advocates argue that suspending asylum for migrants who don't arrive at 
a designated port of entry -- which the Biden administration is trying to push 
migrants to do --- violates existing federal immigration law, among other 
concerns.

   "The United States has long sheltered refugees seeking a haven from 
persecution. The 1980 Refugee Act enshrined that national commitment in law. 
While Congress has placed some limitations on the right to seek asylum over the 
years, it has never permitted the Executive Branch to categorically ban asylum 
based on where a noncitizen enters the country," the groups wrote in the 
complaint filed Wednesday.

   Biden invoked the same legal authority used by the Trump administration for 
its asylum ban, which comes under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and 
Nationality Act. That provision allows a president to limit entries for certain 
migrants if their entry is deemed "detrimental" to the national interest.

   As he campaigns, Biden has repeatedly criticized former President Donald 
Trump's immigration policies, and his administration argues that his directive 
is different because it includes several exemptions for humanitarian reasons. 
For example, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors and those with 
severe medical emergencies would not be subject to the limits.

   A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment 
on the lawsuit but said: "The Securing the Border rule is lawful, is critical 
to strengthening border security, and is already having an impact. The 
challenged actions remain in effect, and we will continue to implement them."

   In the lawsuit, the immigrant advocacy groups argue that exceptions are 
"extremely limited."

   The White House referred questions about the lawsuit to the Justice 
Department, which declined to comment. White House spokesperson Angelo 
Fernndez Hernndez defended Biden's order, saying in a statement it was 
necessary after congressional Republicans blocked a bipartisan agreement that 
"would have provided critical resources, statutory changes, and additional 
personnel to the border."

   Under Biden's directive, migrants who arrive at the border but do not 
express a fear of returning to their home countries will be subject to 
immediate removal from the United States, within a matter of days or even 
hours. Those migrants could face punishments that could include a five-year bar 
from reentering the U.S. or even criminal prosecution.

   Advocates argued in the lawsuit that requiring migrants to express fear -- 
often called manifesting fear -- puts the onus on the migrants.

   "In practice, noncitizens who have just crossed the border, and may be 
hungry, exhausted, ill, or traumatized after fleeing persecution in their home 
countries and danger in Mexico, are likely to be intimidated by armed, 
uniformed Border Patrol officers, and are thus unlikely to 'manifest' their 
fear of return," the lawsuit reads.

   Meanwhile, those who express fear or an intention to seek asylum will be 
screened by a U.S. asylum officer but at a higher standard than currently used. 
If they pass the screening, they can pursue more limited forms of humanitarian 
protection, including the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits 
returning people to a country where they're likely to face torture.

   Migrants who use an app called CBP One while they're in Mexico to schedule 
an appointment to present themselves at an official border crossing point to 
seek entry are exempt from these newer, tougher asylum restrictions. The app is 
part of the administration's efforts to encourage migrants to use its preferred 
pathways to try to enter the country, instead of simply crossing the border and 
finding a Border Patrol agent and turning themselves in.

   But in the lawsuit, advocates detailed a list of complaints about the app. 
For example, many migrants don't have a cellular data plan or the Wi-Fi access 
needed to use it. Some migrants don't speak one of the languages the app 
supports, while other migrants are illiterate. And there's only a limited 
number of slots available every day compared with the number of migrants who 
want to come into the country.

   "As a result, countless asylum seekers have been forced to wait indefinitely 
under precarious conditions in Mexico in the hope of obtaining scarce 
appointments," the lawsuit reads.

   The other groups bringing the lawsuit alongside the ACLU were the National 
Immigrant Justice Center, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Jenner & Block 
LLP, ACLU of the District of Columbia, and Texas Civil Rights Project.

 
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