Late last week, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Trump administration's "remain in Mexico" policy for asylum seekers violates federal asylum law. Another policy was also ruled invalid: one disqualifying immigrants from asylum if they don't enter the U.S. legally.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced that it is in "preliminary discussions" to close its international field offices and delegate their work to the State Department or U.S.-based USCIS personnel.
The case involved an asylum seeker who claims to have been wrongly denied asylum after a "credible fear" hearing before an asylum officer. But U.S. immigration law allows "expedited removal" of recent arrivals caught within 100 miles of the border, providing very limited opportunity to appeal. Now, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that he should have access to a federal court hearing before his deportation.
In November, President Trump issued a ban on asylum for people who cross the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization. Under U.S. law, however, people can seek asylum at any location in the United States regardless of the method of their entry.
Currently, there are over 800,000 immigration cases waiting to be resolved by U.S. immigration courts. A majority involve people seeking a chance to stay in the U.S. rather than being deported. And, although the case backlog has been growing for at least a decade, it has jumped by almost 50 percent since 2017, when President Trump took office. Now, the average time to complete an immigration court hearing is 578 days.
In June 2018, the Trump administration announced a new "expedited removal" policy which denied people the right to seek asylum based on domestic or gang violence. Now, a federal judge has struck down that policy as being in violation of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Refugee Act. He also found that there was no legal basis "for an effective categorical ban on domestic violence and gang-related claims."
With thousands of men, women and children headed toward our Southern border, many will be seeking asylum in the United States. This is an entirely legal process, and the U.S. pledged in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to accept eligible asylum seekers and a share of qualifying refugees. That treaty, commonly called the 1951 Refugee Convention, also prohibits the U.S. from returning refugees and asylum seekers to the countries they fled from.
Even though the number of refugees being admitted to the United States has reached an historic low, the Trump administration is considering reducing that number even further. The U.S. refugee program is meant to offer a chance at stability for people forced out of their homes by disasters or unrest.
The immigration courts work somewhat differently from other courts in the U.S. Rather than being independent and staffed by judges who base their authority on a constitutional mandate, they are considered part of the Department of Justice and are staffed by administrative law judges. That means that the head of the DOJ -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- has a certain amount authority over immigration judges.