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Judge blocks Trump asylum restrictions on those fleeing gang, domestic violence

A U.S. judge has struck down Trump administration policies aimed at restricting asylum claims by people citing gang or domestic violence in their home countries and has ordered the U.S. government to bring back six deported migrants to reconsider their cases.

Ruling clears way for 4 mothers and 2 children to be returned to U.S., ACLU lawyer says

Former U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions speaks in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday. A judge has ruled that some of the guidance Sessions issued cannot be used to determine whether an immigrant has a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via Associated Press)

A U.S. judge struck down Trump administration policies aimed at restricting asylum claims by people citing gang or domestic violence in their home countries and ordered the U.S. government to bring back six deported migrants to reconsider their cases.

The ruling is the latest legal setback for the administration's policies aimed at restricting immigration. Last month, a judge in San Francisco ordered a halt to a policy that prevented those entering illegally from Mexico from seeking asylum.

The policy at the centre of Wednesday's ruling sought to limit the ability of immigrants to fight expedited deportation by narrowing the grounds for claiming "credible fear" if they returned home, the first step in a long asylum process.

The policy change had an immediate impact. Immigration lawyers say people they expected would pass credible-fear screenings began to fail them, and lawyers say immigration judges are signing off on more denials during appeals, effectively ending what could have been a yearslong asylum process before it began.

The policy was challenged in a District of Columbia lawsuit brought by a dozen adults and children who were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

U.S. Judge Emmet Sullivan said the policy violated both immigration and administration law.

"And because it is the will of Congress — not the whims of the executive — that determines the standard for expedited removal, the court finds that those policies are unlawful," Sullivan wrote in a 107-page opinion.

U.S. Judge Emmet Sullivan said in his 107-page opinion the policy violated both immigration and administrative law. (Moises Castillo/Associated Press)

The White House said Wednesday's ruling "will further overwhelm our immigration courts with meritless cases, making the existing massive backlog even worse."

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "Today's ruling is only the latest example of judicial activism that encourages migrants to take dangerous risks; empowers criminal organizations that spread turmoil in our hemisphere; and undermines the laws, borders, Constitution, and sovereignty of the United States."

'All-out assault'

In a statement, the Department of Justice said administration policies sought to follow Congress' requirement that asylum be limited to those with a fear of persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a social group.

The DOJ filed a request to stay the court's orders while the government appealed. Sullivan had not responded to that request.

For the last three months of 2017, the most recent numbers, the government conducted about 6,000 credible fear interviews monthly. The vast majority passed those interviews, allowing them to make their case for asylum in front of a U.S. immigration judge.

"This ruling is a defeat for the Trump administration's all-out assault on the rights of asylum seekers," said a statement from Jennifer Chang Newell, an attorney with the ACLU.

Among the plaintiffs was a woman identified only by a pseudonym, Grace. The ACLU said Grace's partner beat her and her children, and sexually assaulted her and her daughter. Once, the ACLU says, her daughter suffered a miscarriage after he attacked her. The lawsuit says police did not act when she contacted them. The lawsuit says Grace was found not to have a credible fear of persecution.

The ruling clears the way for four mothers and two children to be returned to the United States, according to Newell.

Trump has pledged to cut immigration and has threatened to shut down the government if Congress does not fund a wall on the border with Mexico. The administration has said that the asylum process is being abused by people who have frivolous claims but are able to stay in the country while their cases are being decided.

On Tuesday, the United States committed billions of dollars toward development in Central America and Mexico as part of a plan to curb illegal immigration.

With files from The Associated Press

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