Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL

Updated 2:05 p.m.

A Washington federal judge declared unlawful Wednesday a set of new restrictions the Trump administration imposed on immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. on the basis of domestic violence and fear of gangs.

The judge, Emmet Sullivan of Washington’s federal trial court, said the Trump administration had run afoul of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Sullivan permanently enjoined the U.S. government from continuing the new policies, which were announced this summer by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and demanded the return of immigrants named in the case who he said were unlawfully deported. Those immigrants, he wrote, should receive “new credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws.”

“Many of these policies are inconsistent with the intent of Congress as articulated in the INA. 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 his 107-page ruling.

Sullivan’s ruling marked the latest smackdown of the Trump administration’s asylum policies. In November, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco ruled against the administration’s move to restrict asylum-seekers along the U.S. southern border with Mexico. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this month upheld a temporary restraining order, and the Justice Department has taken that dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sullivan on Wednesday ordered the U.S. “to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with new credible fear determinations consistent with the immigration laws.”

The case, Grace v. Sessions, challenged new Trump administration policies that, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, gutted protections for asylum-seekers. “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions said in a memo in June.

Sullivan said the Justice Department’s directive “to deny most domestic violence or gang violence claims at the credible fear determination stage is fundamentally inconsistent with the threshold screening standard that Congress established: an alien’s removal may not be expedited if there is a ‘significant possibility’ that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum.”

Jennifer Chang Newell, managing attorney of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case in front of Sullivan, called Wednesday’s ruling a “defeat for the Trump administration’s all-out assault on the rights of asylum seekers.” Newell said in a statement:

“The government’s attempt to obliterate asylum protections is unlawful and inconsistent with our country’s longstanding commitment to provide protection to immigrants fleeing for their lives.”

Sullivan made headlines in the case in August after learning that a mother and daughter had been deported while their asylum claims were pending before him. The judge called the move “outrageous” and ordered the government “to turn that plane around either now or when it lands.”

The Justice Department almost immediately requested Sullivan pause his order, preventing it from taking effect while the government considers an appeal. The government would be “irreparably harmed by the absence of any stay of an injunction,” the Justice Department said in a court filing. The government asking for a stay that would last through the duration of any challenge it brings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

In a statement, a Justice Department spokesperson said: “Under the laws passed by Congress, asylum is only for those who have a legitimate fear of persecution on the basis of their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.” The government said it was reviewing options for further review “and we will continue to restore the rule of law in our immigration system.”



Sullivan’s ruling in Grace v. Sessions is posted here:


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