Judge denies bid to prohibit US border officials from turning back asylum-seekers at land crossings

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal judge on Friday denied a bid by immigration advocates to prohibit U.S. officials from turning away asylum-seekers at border crossings with Mexico if they don’t have appointments on a mobile phone app.

The ruling is a victory for the Biden administration and its approach to creating new pathways to enter the United States, while, at the same time, making it more difficult for those who don’t follow prescribed methods to seek asylum.

More than 263,000 people scheduled appointments on the CBP One app from when it was introduced in January through August, including 45,400 who were processed in August. The top nationalities of those who scheduled appointments are Haitian, Mexican and Venezuelan.

The app has been criticized on the right as too permissive and on the left as too restrictive.

CBP One has become “the sole mechanism to access the U.S. asylum process at a (port of entry) on the southern border,” attorneys for Al Otro Lado and the Haitian Bridge Alliance argued in a brief before Friday’s hearing in San Diego. Turning back people without appointments violates agency policy and leaves them “stranded in dangerous Mexican border towns, vulnerable to kidnapping, assault, rape, and murder,” they said.

The Justice Department insisted there is no policy of turning back asylum-seekers. While those with appointments get priority, officers cannot “turn back” people without them, government attorneys wrote.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Schopler, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, said his hands were effectively tied by Supreme Court precedent that limits his authority on immigration policy.

The plaintiffs are disappointed with the decision and considering an appeal, said Melissa Crow, an attorney for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, which represents them.

Katherine Shinners, a Justice Department attorney, told the judge that his reasoning was correct and the case was “fairly straightforward.”

Faced with an influx of asylum-seekers from more than 100 countries, the administration’s mix of legal pathways and more enforcement is being challenged in court on several fronts.

The government appealed a decision to block a new rule that makes it more difficult to claim asylum for anyone who travels through another country, like Mexico, and enters the U.S. illegally. That rule remains in effect while under appeal.

Another closely watched case challenges a policy to grant a two-year stay for up to 30,000 people a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela if they apply online with a financial sponsor and arrive at an airport. Texas is leading 21 states to argue that Biden overreached, saying it “amounts to the creation of a new visa program that allows hundreds of thousands of aliens to enter the United States who otherwise have no basis for doing so.”

The challenge to CBP One will continue in San Diego, despite the judge’s refusal on Friday to intervene immediately.

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