Appeals court deals 2nd blow to Trump asylum policy

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Two U.S. asylum seekers, one from El Salvador, one from Honduras, wait inside a migrant house after being sent to Guatemala from the United States, in Guatemala City, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. They are two of the three Central Americans who arrived in the United States intending to seek asylum but were sent to Guatemala on Tuesday under a July agreement between the two countries making Guatemala a so-called safe third country. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court on Monday blocked a key U.S. policy to deny asylum to anyone who passes through another country without first seeking protection there, dealing it a second blow in less than a week.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling has no immediate impact because a judge appointed by President Donald Trump in Washington last week knocked down the policy on procedural grounds.

The three-judge appeals panel in San Francisco found procedural errors as well as substantive reasons to block the policy while litigation continues. The panel said it does “virtually nothing” to prevent asylum-seekers from being sent to unsafe countries, a violation of international treaty obligations.

The impact is also lessened by a pandemic-related measure imposed in March to quickly expel asylum-seekers. In May, the administration extended it indefinitely, relying on a little-known public health law to prevent the spread of disease.

The Justice and Homeland Security departments didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday. In response to last week’s decision, Homeland Security said it strongly disagreed and was considering options.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to hear arguments before January if it takes the case.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights and Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of immigrant advocacy and service groups.

“The court recognized the grave danger facing asylum seekers and blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to make an end-run around asylum protections enacted by Congress,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.

Judge William Fletcher, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, wrote the opinion. He was joined by Judge Richard Clifton, an appointee of George W. Bush, and Eric Miller, a Trump appointee who said the ruling should be much narrower in scope.

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