The administration on US President Donald Trump on Monday moved to declare most migrants who cross the US southern border after passing through Mexico ineligible for asylum.
A new rule redefining asylum eligibility — to take effect yesterday — is the latest attempt to stem the flow of undocumented migrants into the country, and comes with the White House frustrated at the US Congress’ failure to toughen immigration laws.
Cracking down on migration has been a signature policy of Trump.
“The United States is a generous country, but is being completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens along the southern border,” US Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement.
“This rule will decrease forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States,” Barr added.
The White House’s new rule targets the stream of hundreds of thousands of migrants from Central America and other countries who have tried to cross into the US from Mexico and request asylum.
These requests — increasingly made by families saying they have fled endemic violence and poverty in their countries — allow the applicants to remain in the US and to move around freely while their cases are adjudicated, which can take up to two years.
Many disappear into the country and never appear in court for their hearings, immigration officials have said.
The new rule declares ineligible for asylum any migrants who enter the US from the southern border and who have not asked for asylum protection in any of the countries they crossed to get to the US.
The rule includes exceptions for people who can demonstrate they are victims of torture or persecution.
However, it was not clear whether the White House expects the migrants to seek asylum in the countries they first travel to — Guatemala and Mexico mainly — or simply apply for asylum in the US while waiting in those countries.
The rule could quickly run into legal challenges that have repeatedly stymied the White House’s efforts to slow the number of migrants entering the country without documentation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it was preparing to sue to block the new rule.
“The Trump administration is trying to unilaterally reverse our country’s legal and moral commitment to protect those fleeing danger. This new rule is patently unlawful and we will sue swiftly,” ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project deputy director Lee Gelernt said.
US Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, called the new asylum rule “xenophobic” and “racist.”
“It is unlawful and must be stopped by the courts. We need immigration policies that affirm the American values that the president is all too eager to trample on,” Thompson said.
The number of border-crossers detained by the US Border Patrol surged to a 13-year high of more than 144,000 in May before easing to 104,000 last month — still up 142 percent from a year earlier.
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