WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is working to block maximum asylum-seekers at America’s southern border, a move that would essentially affect Central Americans who cross through Mexico.
The action of administration declared by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security bars people from applying for asylum in the U.S. if they moved by land through another country where asylum was available before arriving in the United States, according to a 58-page federal document made public Monday.
In a declaration, Attorney General William Barr noted a “dramatic increase in the number of aliens” arriving at the U.S. — Mexico border, adding that “only a small minority of these individuals” succeeds for asylum.
“The big number of meritless asylum claims places an extraordinary strain on the nation’s immigration system, undermines many of the humanitarian purposes of asylum, has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis of human smuggling,” Barr said.
The rule is set to take effect Tuesday; and is anticipated to spark rapid legal challenges.
“This thing should never get off the ground. It should be held up instantly by the courts,” said immigration expert Tom Jawetz of the Washington-based Center for American Progress.
A Genuine need
For entrance in the United States, the asylum-seekers would have to show that they were denied relief in a third country — not their own; and not the U.S. Failing that, they would be turned away.
The United States has discussed with Guatemala and Mexico over migration and asylum policies, as the Trump administration seeks to decrease the number of unauthorized southern border crossers and asylum-seekers.
Experts say the level of security in countries stretching from Central America to the U.S. varies greatly.
The United Nations Refugee Agency said it is “deeply concerned” about the new U.S. rule, saying it “extremely curtails the right to apply for asylum, significantly raises the burden of proof on asylum seekers beyond the international legal standard, sharply curtails basic rights and freedoms of those who manage to meet it, and is not in line with international responsibilities.”
Although the rule would impact tens of thousands of Central Americans, who comprise the majority of unauthorized border crossers and asylum-seekers at America’s southwest border, it applies to all asylum-seekers; including those from countries outside the region. In current months, U.S. Border Patrol agents have noted a growth in asylum-seekers from central Africa and Haiti.
The rule would not be effective for the nationals of Mexico or Canada, countries that are contiguous to the United States.
United States President Donald Trump has long favored more obstructive immigration policies, challenging arrivals from Latin America, the Middle East, and several majority-Muslim African countries.
Monday’s document spelling out the rule change differentiates between those who have a “genuine” need for asylum and those who do not, stating that some are taking advantage of the United States system. It says the rule seeks to speed “relief to those who need it most (i.e., individuals who have no other country where they can escape persecution or torment or who are victims of a severe form of trafficking and thus did not volitionally travel through a third country to reach the United States).”
The fresh rule is the latest effort by the Trump administration to hold back asylum-seekers at the Mexican border.
Since January, more than 15,000 people, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, who sought asylum in the U.S. were returned to Mexico under the “Migrant Protection Protocols” to await their asylum case in U.S. immigration court.
Though the fresh regulation directs civil servants on how to carry out part of the United States immigration law, it does not change the law itself, which only Congress can alter.
“Fiddling around with regulations doesn’t amend the law, said Jason Dzubow, a Washington, D.C., attorney who focuses on asylum law.
U.S. courts will block the rule from taking effect, predicted by Jawetz.
“And then there will be further litigation around issuing a permanent injunction as you’ve seen with several other legal actions against this administration,” Jawetz told to media sources.
Such legal challenges are not new. Trump’s attempts to implement travel bans also motivated a flurry of lawsuits.
It is uncertain whether the roughly 8,400 nationals of the Northern Triangle countries who were granted asylum by the U.S. in 2017, the last year Washington has published complete asylum data, would have qualified under the new regulation.
Although the regulation would control who can apply for asylum, it allows for another measure of relief called “withholding of removal.”
Under that facility, people who can demonstrate that their lives or freedom would be in danger if deported to their home country could be sent to a safe third country, if that country accepts the individual.