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ACLU sues Trump administration over asylum changes

Trump comments on new asylum rule

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Trump administration, after the president moved forward with a regulation that would withhold asylum protection from immigrants who cross the border illegally first on Thursday. The ACLU said in a post on Twitter that neither "the president nor his cabinet can override the clear commands of our law."

The interim final rule posted Thursday from the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security would bar immigrants who cross the "southern border unlawfully" from "eligibility for asylum." Immigrants would have to apply for asylum status at designated points of entry, and those already in the country illegally would not be able to apply. 

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen argued in a statement that the president has "the broad authority to suspend or restrict the entry of aliens" into the U.S. if he deems it's in the national interest. She went on to say that Congress had given the president the authority to take this action.

"Today, we are using the authority granted to us by Congress to bar aliens who violate a presidential suspension of entry or other restriction from asylum eligibility," she wrote.

Critics say that American law doesn't dictate where a person can apply in order to be eligible for asylum. "U.S. law specifically allows individuals to apply for asylum whether or not they are at a port of entry. It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree," Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Rights Project, said.

A federal statute in the U.S. Code says that "any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum."

However, the Trump administration argues that Congress gives the president broad authority on issues of immigration and security. The Immigration and Nationality Act says the president "may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate."

In response to the ACLU's lawsuit, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement saying, "the President has the right to suspend the entry of aliens if he determines it to be in the national interest—and that is what President Trump has done."

"The fact that the ACLU and its partners would go to court to specifically sue for the right for aliens to enter the country illegally is demonstrative of the open border community's disdain for our nation's laws that almost all rational Americans find appalling," the statement continued.

With reporting by Kathryn Watson

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