Another judge tries to pry open the southern border

We haven’t heard all that much in the news lately about the illegal immigration issues on the southern border. (Well, aside from the unpleasantness surrounding We Build the Wall, of course.) This is most likely due to the fact that the border is essentially closed due to the pandemic anyway. But there are still legal battles brewing thanks to the open borders crowd, and yet another of those came to a temporary conclusion this week. A judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled yesterday that Customs and Border Protection agents were not qualified to perform screenings for asylum applicants arriving at the U.S. and Mexico border. While this may not have a lot of impact in the short term, it could end up reversing some of the White House’s initiatives in controlling migration once the traffic across the border returns to normal. (Whenever that is allegedly going to happen.) This report comes from the Associated Press.

A federal judge on Monday blocked U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees from conducting the initial screening for people seeking asylum, dealing a setback to one of the Trump administration’s efforts to rein in asylum.

The nationwide injunction will likely have little, if any, immediate impact because the government has effectively suspended asylum during the coronavirus pandemic, citing public health concerns.

The Trump administration argued that designated CBP employees are trained comparably to asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, another agency within the Homeland Security Department. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon in Washington disagreed.

You can get a sense of the level of judicial seriousness on display here by noting that Judge Richard J. Leon actually used the word “Poppycock” with an exclamation point in the text of his ruling. He determined that the two to five weeks of training that CBP employees receive when learning to conduct asylum interviews is insufficient compared to the six to nine weeks of training given to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services workers.

The report notes that Judge Leon is a Bush 43 appointee, presumably offering that as evidence that this wasn’t some sort of partisan maneuver. In response to that, I’ll simply note that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Robers was also appointed by W, and we’ve all seen how that’s been working out lately.

Judge Leon goes on to opine that CPB agents are not likely to conduct screenings in a “nonadversarial manner” as required by law. I assume he means to imply that USCIS employees are less adversarial by default? That’s a rather leaping bit of generalization, isn’t it? Citizenship and Immigration Services employees are also charged with ensuring that only those with valid claims are allowed entry into the country. Otherwise, why bother screening anyone at all? The entire process is “adversarial” when looked at in that light.

Similarly, CBP officers are obliged to allow people through the border who are legally entitled to cross. Both positions require a degree of both convivial and adversarial attitudes depending on the circumstances. The deeper you go into the judge’s decision, the more it seems that the word “poppycock” could be applied to this ruling more appropriately than current White House policies on asylum screening. Or perhaps we should say “malarky?”

In any event, as I noted at the top, traffic at the border, both legal and illegal, is a relative trickle at the moment when compared to previous periods. The summer weather makes illegal crossings in desert areas even more brutal than they are otherwise, and the low traffic rates allow for more thorough inspections of vehicles approaching authorized crossing points. At the moment, the stress placed on our immigration system is lower than it’s been in years, so this ruling shouldn’t have too much of an effect. But if traffic volumes at the border begin to surge again in the fall and winter, this could come back to bite us. Of course, the government will almost certainly appeal this ruling, so the question may well be moot before that becomes an issue.