WASHINGTON — The Trump administration can begin denying asylum requests from migrants at the southern border who have traveled through Mexico or another country without seeking protection there, after the Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted a lower court’s block on the new restriction.
The justices put on hold an injunction from lower courts in California that halted the new rule pending additional legal action; there, a district judge had said it probably ran afoul of a federal statute and administrative law.
President Trump’s policy is a dramatic change in the way the federal government treats those seeking safe haven in the United States, and is one of the administration’s most significant efforts to deter migrants at the southern border. It is one of multiple tools immigration officials have deployed to prevent entry by families and others fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.
Trump reacted on Twitter: ‘‘BIG United States Supreme Court WIN for the Border on Asylum!’’
Earlier this summer, the court on a 5-to-4 vote agreed to another emergency request from the administration, allowing it to proceed with plans to use $2.5 billion in Pentagon funds to build part of the president’s wall project along the southern border.
No vote was recorded in the asylum case order, but Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted their disapproval of the court’s action in a strongly worded dissent.
‘‘Once again the Executive Branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution,’’ Sotomayor wrote.
‘‘Although this Nation has long kept its doors open to refugees — and although the stakes for asylum seekers could not be higher — the Government implemented its rule without first providing the public notice and inviting the public input generally required by law.’’
As is common, the court’s majority did not provide a reason for lifting the injunction issued by a lower court. The issue is likely to come back to the Supreme Court when the ongoing legal challenges have been completed in lower courts.
But that could take months, and Sotomayor said the status quo should remain in place until then. The change most affects Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans leaving behind gang violence and high levels of crime in their countries. It could also turn away migrants fleeing oppressive regimes in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and elsewhere.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services acting director Kenneth Cuccinelli tweeted that the Trump administration ‘‘uses every tool in the toolbox to try and solve the crisis at our southern border. @USCIS will commence implementing the asylum rule ASAP.’’
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lee Gelernt stressed that the challenges continue. ‘‘This is just a temporary step, and we’re hopeful we’ll prevail at the end of the day,’’ he said in a statement. ‘‘The lives of thousands of families are at stake.’’
A record number of Central American families have sought asylum in the United States during the past year, and most have been released to await court hearings, thwarting Trump’s efforts to curb a new wave of migrants. The Justice Department says more than 436,000 pending cases include an asylum application.