ACLU sues Biden over border executive order that allows him to turn back migrants

Civil rights groups were left with ‘no alternative’ after Biden’s ‘shameful’ executive order to address the border crisis

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 12 June 2024 23:54 BST
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A coalition of civil rights groups is suing President Joe Biden’s administration to block an executive order that aims to ban people seeking asylum from crossing the US-Mexico border.

The ACLU and five other immigrants’ rights groups filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, DC, Wednesday on behalf of two Texas-based groups – Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services – after the president signed the order earlier this month.

The lawsuit argues the order creates a narrow path to asylum that flies in the face of federal law and mirrors a similar illegal order under former President Donald Trump that was rejected by the courts.

“We were left with no alternative but to sue,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.

“The administration lacks unilateral authority to override Congress and bar asylum based on how one enters the country, a point the courts made crystal clear when the Trump administration unsuccessfully tried a near-identical ban,” he added.

US border patrol agents lead a group of migrants seeking asylum towards a van to be transported and processed near Dulzura, California on June 5. Civil rights groups sued the Biden administration on June 12 to block an executive order that significantly limits asylum claims.
US border patrol agents lead a group of migrants seeking asylum towards a van to be transported and processed near Dulzura, California on June 5. Civil rights groups sued the Biden administration on June 12 to block an executive order that significantly limits asylum claims. (AP)

Biden’s plan will effectively shut down asylum claims once the number of daily border encounters reaches 2,500 at ports of entry, and will only reopen once those daily encounters decline to 1,500. It remains unclear whether those terms have kicked in since the order was put in place earlier this month.

Critics have warned that such an action upends international guarantees that protect asylum rights for people on US soil, and will endanger the lives of thousands of people fleeing violence, instability and corruption below the southern border.

“Around the world, people are fleeing persecution and torture at higher rates than ever before,” according to National Immigrant Justice Center litigation director Keren Zwick.

“It’s shameful that the US government has chosen to respond by shutting out access to asylum to those who come to our border in need.”

The lawsuit names six federal agencies and six officials as defendants, including US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Director Alejandro Mayorkas.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on an executive order limiting asylum in the East Room of the White House on June 4.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on an executive order limiting asylum in the East Room of the White House on June 4. (Getty Images)

As The Independent previously reported, Biden’s order invokes Section 212(f) of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows the president to suspend immigration for anyone determined to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States” – the same authority that Trump used to unilaterally ban immigrants from majority-Muslim countries, which was later struck down in court.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Refugee Convention have affirmed asylum rights for people fleeing persecution and violence.

In the US, a person granted asylum is legally allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation, and qualifies for legal work with potential pathways to permanent legal status. Those claims can only be made at the US border or within the US.

The Refugee Act of 1980 “enshrined” that commitment in law, and the executive officer has never been allowed to “categorically ban asylum” based on where a noncitizen enters the country, according to the lawsuit.

Biden’s order also aims to speed migrants through fast-tracked deportation proceedings, which critics fear will expose already vulnerable people who are seeking protection into volatile and violent circumstances on the southern border.

That screening policy will “systematically lead to the refoulement of people seeking protection from persecution, torture, and death,” according to the lawsuit.

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