US    -   A federal judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked a new Trump administration policy Wednesday that sought to bar Central Americans and other migrants from requesting asylum at the southern border, saying the federal government’s frustrations with rising border crossings did not justify “shortcutting the law.”

The policy aimed to curtail Central American migration across the southern border by requiring asylum seekers to apply in countries they had passed through on the way to the United States, particularly Mexico or Guatemala.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar, who halted another version of the Trump administration’s asylum ban last year, said a “mountain” of evidence showed that migrants could not safely seek asylum in Mexico.

He said the rule likely violated federal law in part by categorically denying asylum to almost anyone crossing the border. U.S. law generally allows anyone who sets foot on U.S. soil to apply for asylum.

Tigar issued a preliminary injunction blocking the July 16 policy and ordered the government to restore the existing system. He wrote that the “government rightly notes that the strains on this country’s immigration system have only increased since the fall of 2018,” but he said that did not authorize them to bypass Congress.

“The public undoubtedly has a pressing interest in fairly and promptly addressing both the harms to asylum applicants and the administrative burdens imposed by the influx of persons seeking asylum,” Tigar, an Obama administration appointee in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, wrote in his 45-page ruling.

“But shortcutting the law, or weakening the boundary between Congress and the Executive, are not the solutions to these problems.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the case in court on behalf of several nonprofits, cheered the ruling and said the Trump administration’s policy would have effectively ended asylum at the southern border.

President Trump is restricting the path to asylum in his quest to curb immigration into the United States.

“The court recognized, as it did with the first asylum ban, that the Trump administration was attempting an unlawful end run around asylum protections enacted by Congress,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said in a statement.

Tigar’s ruling followed an hour-long hearing Wednesday in San Francisco and a short-lived legal victory for the Trump administration over the same policy, in a different lawsuit in Washington.

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly, a Trump appointee, declined to halt the policy, setting up a potential race to federal appellate courts over one of the administration’s key migration initiatives.

President Trump immediately hailed the D.C. decision as a victory, telling reporters outside the White House that the decision “helps us very much at the border.”

“So the asylum is a very big ruling. That was a tremendous ruling today,” Trump said. “We appreciate it. We respect the courts very much.”

Neither judge ruled on the merits of the cases, and the Justice Department is expected to appeal Tigar’s ruling.

A Justice Department spokesman said in response to the ruling that Congress granted the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security broad authority to bar “certain categories” of asylum seekers.

“The district court was wrong to conclude otherwise, to second-guess the agencies’ expert policy judgment, and to halt this critical measure on a nationwide basis — particularly on the very same day that another district judge, faced with a legal challenge to this rule by virtually indistinguishable organizations, refused to issue such nationwide injunction relief,” the statement said.