Trump lawyers argue there's no policy to repel asylum seekers

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection uniform patch during a U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on migration on the Southern U.S Border on April 9, 2019, in Washington, D.C.


By EDVARD PETTERSSON AND BILL CALLAHAN | Bloomberg News | Published: May 11, 2019

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — Lawyers for the Trump administration maintain there's no U.S. policy to turn away asylum seekers at the Mexican border, notwithstanding allegations that immigration officers bully prospective applicants into believing they can't seek asylum.

Government lawyers on Friday asked a federal judge in San Diego to throw out claims by Mexican and Central American immigrants who allege they were either threatened or intimated from seeking asylum or were simply turned away at U.S. border crossings before they could state their intention to ask for asylum.

The immigrants who are suing, most of whom have said they fled gang and domestic violence in their home countries, were allowed previously to proceed in court on some of their individual claims. But U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant last year wasn't convinced there was an actual government policy that blocked their access to the asylum process.

At Friday's hearing, lawyers for the immigrants again met skepticism from the judge over whether there was an actual policy. Without one, they can't seek a court declaration that the administration is breaking the law and it will make it difficult for them to move forward with a class action on behalf of all immigrants who were turned away at the border on false grounds.

"The question is whether there is such a policy," Bashant said, later adding, "There has to be a finalized government policy I am ruling upon."

The judge didn't decide on the government's request to throw out the claims at the hearing and said she will issue a written ruling.

"The Trump administration is doing everything it can to sidestep its legal obligations to asylum seekers," Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in a statement. "Instead, their focus has been on stripping these incredibly vulnerable populations of their rights while working to convince the American public via a campaign of misinformation that they lack capacity to process asylum seekers at the southern border."

Government attorney Gisela Ann Westwater told the judge there is no policy and that asylum seekers are being turned away at the border and put on waiting lists because immigration officials are swamped by overwhelming numbers of foreigners seeking to come into the United States.

Westwater argued that the courts don't have the power to review the day-to-day operations or the allotment of resources of the border agencies involved.


Kartikay Mehrotra contributed to this report.
Pettersson reported from Los Angeles and Callahan from San Diego

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