By Dan Levine
(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday said it would continue to defend President Donald Trump's decision to make immigrants who enter the country illegally from Mexico ineligible for asylum, after a federal judge temporarily blocked the policy.
Trump cited an overwhelmed immigration system for his recent proclamation that officials will only process asylum claims for migrants who present themselves at an official entry point along the U.S.-Mexico frontier.
But civil rights groups sued, and on Monday U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order saying Congress has clearly allowed immigrants to apply for asylum regardless of how they entered the country.
The Justice Department on Tuesday said it was "absurd" that Tigar allowed civil rights groups to have the ability "to stop the entire federal government from acting so that illegal aliens can receive a government benefit to which they are not entitled."
The asylum ruling came as thousands of Central Americans, including a large number of children, are travelling in caravans towards the U.S. border to escape violence and poverty at home. Some have already arrived at Tijuana, a Mexican city on the border with California.
"We look forward to continuing to defend the Executive Branch's legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border," the Justice Department said.
In a statement after the ruling, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said Trump's policy puts people's lives in danger.
"There is no justifiable reason to flatly deny people the right to apply for asylum, and we cannot send them back to danger based on the manner of their entry," Gelernt said.
Tigar, whose decision to block the asylum restriction marked the latest courtroom defeat for Trump on immigration policy, was nominated to the court by former President Barack Obama. His Monday order, which took effect immediately, applies nationwide and lasts until Dec. 19, when the judge scheduled a hearing to consider a more long-lasting injunction.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Tom Brown)