Top UN Official Says Trump’s Restrictions On Asylum May Violate International Law

As Justice Department lawyers urge a federal appeals court in San Francisco to reinstate President Trump’s ban on asylum for thousands of undocumented immigrants, the United Nations’ top refugee official has weighed in, telling a federal judge the restrictions appears to violate U.S. obligations under international law.

The president’s Nov. 9 order conflicts with an international treaty that prohibits nations from “penalizing refugees for unlawful entry, expelling them, or returning them to territory where their lives or freedom would be threatened,” lawyers for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said Wednesday in a proposed filing with U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar.

Tigar issued a nationwide one-month restraining order Nov. 19 halting enforcement of Trump’s directive barring immigrants from seeking asylum if they enter the U.S. illegally at the Mexican border. The order says asylum seekers must present themselves at designated ports of entry, a limited number of official sites where migrants currently must wait several months before entering.

Tigar said Trump’s order flouted a federal law that allows immigrants in the U.S. to apply for asylum no matter where they entered. Arguing that the judge gave short shrift to the president’s authority over immigration and national security, the Justice Department has asked the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to restore the asylum ban.

Tigar, meanwhile, has scheduled a hearing Dec. 19 on whether to convert his restraining order to a longer-lasting preliminary injunction. He has asked the Justice Department whether it objects to his consideration of Grandi’s proposed filing.

The UN official said Trump’s order “ignores the realities of refugee flight, which makes it impossible for some refugees to present themselves at ordinary ports of entry.” International law and treaties forbid “punishment for irregular entry” and require nations to consider asylum claims individually, Grandi’s lawyers said.

In addition, they said, treaties prohibit “returning vulnerable individuals to a place where they are endangered.”

Trump’s order, the lawyers said, returns asylum seekers “to the very states they have desperately sought to escape.”

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @BobEgelko

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