A federal judge in California blocked a sweeping “death to asylum” rule on January 8, just three days before the rule was scheduled to take effect. The asylum rule is just one of many regulations attempting to limit access to asylum, but one of the Trump administration’s most expansive.

The 419-page rule represents the most far-reaching midnight regulation yet. It would have gutted asylum eligibility, preventing countless people from obtaining relief in the United States.

Among its many draconian provisions, asylum seekers who passed through at least one country en route to the United States but did not seek asylum there could be found ineligible for U.S. asylum. The rule would have rewritten almost the entire asylum legal definition, drastically limiting the meaning of concepts like “persecution” and “political opinion,” among others.

Immigration judges could have denied requests for relief—without a hearing to explain one’s case in person—if they thought the asylum application alone was not supported by sufficient evidence.

Many meritorious asylum claims begin with an application containing limited evidence, given the complexity of the asylum process, the challenges of retrieving documentary evidence to include in an application, and the lack of access to counsel.

Public opposition to the regulation was monumental. Within the short 30-day comment period, tens of thousands of people explained why the regulation shouldn’t go into effect.

In his scathing 14-page, Judge James Donato of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, CA took issue with this extremely short comment period. It did not give the public nearly enough time to understand and comment on a rule this complicated.

He also found fault with the administration’s failure to consider the “tidal wave” of comments that were submitted.

In addition, Judge Donato agreed with other federal courts that the rule is problematic because the Department of Homeland Security failed to follow appropriate legal procedures when installing Chad Wolf, who was secretary of Homeland Security when the regulation was issued.

Several other federal courts have questioned the legality of Wolf’s appointment, alongside the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. Chad Wolf stepped down as secretary on January 11 amid ongoing challenges questioning his appointment.

There are other regulations still in the pipeline that aim to restrict access to asylum. But this ruling is a positive sign for migrants seeking humanitarian relief in the U.S.

The ruling—which blocks implementation of the rule for now—applies nationwide, the court said, because limiting the decision “would result in a fragmented and disjointed patchwork of immigration policy.”

The Biden administration is expected to make strong efforts to reverse many of the harsh changes made to the asylum system. Some policies may be rolled back on Day One by the stroke of a pen, but others may take much longer, including some policies tied up in the regulatory process.


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