Trump Admin Announces Major Crackdown on Asylum Seekers
Sweeping new policy drastically cuts numbers of migrants seeking asylum in the US
President Donald Trump's administration has announced a major crackdown on the number of asylum seekers entering the United States.
The sweeping new policy will drastically cut the number of migrants entering the US who are seeking asylum.
The move aims to alleviate mounting pressures on immigration officials at the US Southern Border by restricting eligibility for Central American migrants attempting to enter the country.
The new rule, published in the Federal Register, adds a requirement for migrants entering through America’s southern border to first seek asylum in one of the countries they traversed on their journey – whether in Mexico, in Central America, or elsewhere.
In most cases, asylum applications will only be considered for the United States if they were previously denied by another country.
Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan describes the "targeted changes" as critical in a statement, saying:
"Ultimately, today's action will reduce the overwhelming burdens on our domestic system caused by asylum-seekers failing to seek urgent protection in the first available country, economic migrants lacking a legitimate fear of persecution, and the transnational criminal organizations, traffickers, and smugglers exploiting our system for profits.”
Sure to ignite a new firestorm over the administration's immigration approach, the new policy follows the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols, commonly referred to as the "remain in Mexico" policy, according to Fox News.
Under that policy, asylum seekers were often told to go back to Mexico to await hearings, rather than be allowed to remain in the U.S.
Democrats railed against that policy, with 2020 hopeful Beto O'Rourke calling it "inhumane."
The latest change is meant to crack down on asylum seekers coming to the U.S. more for economic reasons than to escape persecution in their home countries.
The new policy does include a couple of other exceptions, mainly for certain victims of human trafficking.
Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement that the change would curb "forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States—while ensuring that no one is removed from the United States who is more likely than not to be tortured or persecuted on account of a protected ground.”
While Barr maintained the legality of the move, the new rule is likely to face a court challenge.
U.S. law allows refugees to request asylum when they arrive at the U.S. regardless of how they did so, but there is an exception for those who have come through a country considered to be "safe."
But the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs asylum law, is vague on how a country is determined "safe"; it says "pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement."
Right now, the U.S. has such an agreement, known as a "safe third country," only with Canada.
Under a recent agreement with Mexico, Central American countries were considering a regional compact on the issue, but nothing has been decided.
Guatemalan officials were expected in Washington on Monday, but apparently, a meeting between Trump and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales was canceled amid a court challenge in Guatemala over whether the country could strike such an agreement.
Trump administration officials say the changes are meant to close the gap between the initial asylum screening that most people pass and the final decision on asylum that most people do not win.
The goal in part is to allow quicker determinations in these cases.
But immigrant rights groups, religious leaders and humanitarian groups have said the Republican administration's policies amount to a cruel effort to keep immigrants out of the country.
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are poor countries suffering from violence.
Along with the administration's recent effort to send asylum seekers back over the border, Trump has tried to deny asylum to anyone crossing the border illegally and restrict who can claim asylum.
Reducing the number of asylum seekers, however, would ease the burden on federal agencies currently overwhelmed by the number of people looking to enter the United States.
Children and adults crossing illegally are often separated, with the children placed in detention facilities that are lacking in resources, resulting in outcries against the administration’s current practices.
Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli said on "Fox News Sunday" last week that action was needed to improve the situation.
He said the current volume of people trying to enter the U.S. has resulted in poor conditions in detention facilities, and pointed a finger at lawmakers for not doing enough to fix the situation.
Cuccinelli recalled a visit to a facility in El Paso that had 950 people in it, despite a maximum capacity of 800.
"Once you're over those capacity points, you encounter problems," he said.
On Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., cited the urgency for adopting new asylum laws.
Graham said that 30 percent of those who cross into the U.S. with children are "fake families," and that loopholes are used to let the same children come back over and over, bringing different adults with them.