President Trump signs proclamation limiting asylum seekers

Lamar Ellis
November 10, 2018

The regulations released on Thursday, in conjunction with an order expected to be signed by President Donald Trump, would effectively ban migrants who cross the USA border with Mexico illegally from qualifying for asylum. It's unknown whether those in the caravan, many fleeing violence in their homeland, plan to cross illegally.

The rule adds that immigrants who entered before the proclamation "will not be subject to the asylum eligibility bar unless they depart and reenter while the proclamation remains in effect". But those efforts have been largely thwarted by legal challenges and, in the case of family separations this year, stymied by a global outcry that prompted Trump to retreat. Those forms of protection include "withholding of removal" - which is similar to asylum, but doesn't allow for green cards or bringing families - or asylum under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. But Trump insisted the citizenship issue would be pushed through.

And it's too early to tell if the ban will affect caravans of Central American immigrants that have drawn the wrath of the president as they slow make their way to the U.S. If they opt to show up at a port of entry like previous caravans did, then the new rules won't restrict them from seeking asylum here.

"Congress has directly spoken to this question as to whether individuals can be rendered ineligible for asylum if they cross between ports of entry and has specifically said people are eligible regardless of where they cross", said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. "It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree", he said. The military is expected to have the vast majority of the more than 7,000 troops planned for the mission deployed by Monday, and that number could grow. Trump has said he wanted to erect "tent cities", but nothing has been funded or decided. Those issues were not addressed by the regulations Thursday.

A senior administration official said the White House hopes that by funneling asylum claimants to ports of entry, officials will be able to assess and adjudicate claims more rapidly.

The executive action is the latest the President has taken to clamp down on illegal immigration and to discourage the group of migrants now traveling through Mexico, many of whom want to seek asylum in the United States, from making their way toward the country.

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Migrants who cross illegally are generally arrested and often seek asylum or some other form of protection. Claims have spiked in recent years and the immigration court backlog has more than doubled to 1.1 million cases in about two years, Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reported this week. Generally, only about 20 percent of applicants are approved. "The fact that the ACLU and its partners would go to court to specifically sue for the right for aliens to enter the country illegally is demonstrative of the open border community's disdain for our nation's laws that nearly all rational Americans find appalling". But many migrants are unaware of that guidance, and official border crossings have grown clogged. Backlogs have become especially bad in recent months at crossings in California, Arizona and Texas, with some people waiting five weeks to try to claim asylum at San Diego's main crossing. "Neither the president nor his cabinet secretaries can override the clear commands of US law, but that's exactly what they're trying to do".

The United States fielded 331,700 asylum claims last year, almost double from two years earlier and surpassing Germany as highest in the world, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, part of a caravan traveling from Central America en route to the United States, wait outside a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office during a march demanding buses to take them to the US border, in Mexico City, Mexico November 8, 2018.

Pro-immigrant groups have denounced the administration's plan, arguing it contravenes existing USA law and unfairly restricts asylum protections for those fleeing persecution and violence.

Similar caravans have gathered regularly over the years and have generally dwindled by the time they reach the southern border, particularly to Tijuana. The Trump administration calls it "catch and release" and notes that, while about 8 of 10 asylum seekers pass the initial screening, known as a "credible fear" interview, most are ultimately unsuccessful in court.

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