MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Supreme Court has ruled that the Trump administration can begin denying asylum requests for migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border if they have not first applied in a third country as they traveled north. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the only two dissenting voices in Wednesday's 7-2 ruling. The administration's policy was originally announced in July. It is designed to reduce the number of people seeking asylum in the U.S.
For more on tonight's order, we are joined by NPR's Richard Gonzales. Hey there, Richard.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Hi.
KELLY: Hi. Start by just setting the scene. Remind us how we got to this moment tonight.
GONZALES: We get here because, as you mentioned, in July, the administration announced its tough new asylum policy aimed at slowing the flow of Central American migrants who are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The idea was to require those asylum-seeking immigrants or migrants to pass through a third country on their way to the U.S. and to apply for asylum there before they could apply for refugee status in this country. So imagine someone who is coming to the U.S. from Guatemala. That person would be required to first apply for asylum in Mexico, have - and if that person's rejected, then they would also be rejected at the U.S. border.
KELLY: All right. So let's go to the argument that the government made in court today. This was Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was defending the policy. What kind of argument did he make?
GONZALES: He said that Congress has already given the administration, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security the authority to impose new rules on asylum seekers that go beyond what's already in federal law. And he said these new rules, quote, "alleviate a crushing burden on the U.S. asylum system by prioritizing asylum seekers who most need asylum in the U.S." The idea is that they want to deter people from coming here, and the way you do that is by warning them that they will not be able to apply for asylum.
KELLY: Now, this decision by the Supreme Court today overturns a lower court ruling. What had that court concluded?
GONZALES: Well, a federal judge in San Francisco, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, had blocked this new policy from taking effect in late July. Then a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed Tigar's order, saying that it would only apply in Arizona and California, which are the states that are within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit.
The - Judge Tigar went back - came out just on Monday and said, no, I think I was right the first time, and said, you know, I'm imposing a nationwide hold on this asylum idea, this asylum policy. But the 9th Circuit narrowed him - narrowed his order again yesterday sort - basically tells us, you know, which way the wind was blowing, as far as the courts were concerned.
KELLY: Can you give us a quick sense of reaction - any that's come in yet tonight, Richard - and I'm thinking particularly of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, among those who'd argued against this, who'd argued that countries like Guatemala and Mexico don't have functioning asylum systems, and so it's dangerous for - to ask people to apply there.
GONZALES: I think it's safe to say that it - within the community of immigrant advocates, they are devastated. They consider this to be a very devastating ruling that will put the lives of thousands of people, according to their argument, at stake. They're also hoping that this is just a temporary step and that they'll be able to prevail at the end of the day when they are arguing the - in other court proceedings the merits of the case. But it's hard to imagine the Supreme Court is going to reverse itself, having made its ruling already.
KELLY: Having gotten this far. All right. That's NPR's Richard Gonzales.
Thank you so much for your reporting, Richard.
GONZALES: My pleasure.
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