ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump has taken steps to limit who gets asylum in the U.S., and his administration has faced legal challenges to those steps from civil rights groups. Today, in a federal court in California, the administration argued it has the authority to restrict which immigrants can apply for asylum. From San Francisco, NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: With thousands of Central American migrants making their way through Mexico to the U.S. border, President Trump has declared a crisis. He has declared that the nation's asylum system is broken.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The laws are obsolete, and they're incompetent. They are the worst laws any country has anywhere in the world.
GONZALES: Under a new rule that took effect immediately, the Trump administration is requiring that asylum-seekers present themselves at official ports of entry. Before, even immigrants caught entering the country illegally could ask for asylum.
The American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant advocacy groups promptly sued. They argue that the administration didn't give the public a chance to comment on the new rule. And they say Trump is overstepping his authority by changing asylum rules that were established by Congress.
Lee Gelernt is an attorney with the ACLU.
LEE GELERNT: Congress has specifically said people can apply for asylum regardless of where they enter. The administration has overridden that unilaterally. It raises serious concerns about separation of powers against the backdrop of an enormous humanitarian crisis where people are going to be sent back to be persecuted, possibly killed.
GONZALES: An attorney for the Justice Department, Scott Stewart, argued that the regulation to limit asylum was justified. He said too many immigrants are crossing the border illegally with, quote, "meritless claims of asylum."
But during the court hearing today, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, an Obama appointee, appeared skeptical. He admonished the government's lawyer, telling him, to say something is true is not to make it true.
The Trump administration's efforts to limit asylum have also been challenged in federal court in Washington D.C. At a hearing there today, the ACLU challenged efforts to deny asylum to migrants fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence. Under a directive from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, those are no longer grounds for seeking asylum in most cases. In that case, and in the case here in California, the judges said they would issue their decisions later on.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.