A federal judge has blocked the Trump administration’s effort to bar migrants from seeking asylum in the US if they have passed through another country first without seeking protection there.

The preliminary injunction, issued by the US district judge Jon Tigar in California, was handed down after a hearing in which government lawyers presented oral arguments for new asylum restrictions on migrants coming to the southern border.

During a hearing on Wednesday morning in San Francisco, the justice department lawyer Scott Stewart described the new interim rule, announced by the Trump administration last week, as “lawful” and “appropriately issued”, saying it was needed to “address the urgent, ongoing crisis” at the border.

Opponents of the measure, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights, have argued that the policy violates domestic and international law as well as the right of migrants to seek asylum in the US.

During the hearing, Tigar questioned the ability of countries such as Mexico and Guatemala to handle the volume of asylum-seekers and process their claims.

“There’s some pretty tough stuff in there,” Tigar said, adding that applications were “up dramatically”. He noted that the government had failed to provide a “scintilla of evidence” about the ability of the asylum system process in Guatemala to cope with the influx.

Tigar, who previously issued an injunction in another case involving administration-sought asylum restrictions, said during the hearing he expected an appeal by whichever side was not successful in his ruling.

The government’s new interim measures on asylum seekers allow for limited exceptions, including for migrants who can show they meet the definition of a “victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons”, or migrants who come to the US through countries which are not signatories of asylum and refugees treaties.

Tigar’s previous order blocked the president’s effort to deny the protection to anyone who did not enter the US through a legal port of entry.

“This is just another volley in the ongoing war against asylum seekers,” Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney at the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project, said on Wednesday before the order was decided.

Tigar’s ruling came just hours after another federal judge in Washington DC let the nine-day-old policy stand.

The US district judge Timothy Kelly denied a motion for a temporary halt to the administration’s policy brought by the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (Cair) Coalition, ruling that the parties had not shown that their work would be irreparably harmed if the policy was implemented.

Donald Trump told reporters before his departure for a fundraiser in West Virginia that the decision by Kelly, a Trump appointee, was a “tremendous ruling”. He added: “We appreciate it. We respect the courts very much. That helps us very much at the border.”

Tigar said that ruling was not binding on his own decision and any conflicts could be kicked up to a higher court. “My ruling is not binding on him just as his ruling is not binding on me,” Tigar said.

The California ruling halts the border policy as lawsuits play out in court.

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