USA proposes banning asylum through southern border

Frederick Owens
November 9, 2018

Drawing on national security powers, the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice issued a fast-track rule barring immigrants from seeking asylum if they first enter the USA illegally. "It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree", Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Rights Project, said.

Trump is expected to sign the order on Friday before leaving on a trip to Paris.

In remarks, last week at the White House, Trump announced he would pursue the rule change, suggesting without providing evidence that many migrants seek and receive asylum illegitimately.

Administration officials have said existing USA asylum rules encourage illegal immigration and bog down legitimate claims.

When asked whether the goal of funneling people to the ports of entry was aimed at reducing the number of people who claim asylum, given the slow process and legal backlog, a senior official said "the intention is to be able to more quickly arrive at a determination for those who have legit claims" adding that they are working on "staffing models to ensure that we can handle the claims we will be seeing".

The new policy would kick in only after the president issues a proclamation blocking entry of illegal immigrants across the southern border.

This summer, multiple news outlets reported that hundreds of migrants who had legally presented themselves to US agents at official ports of entry, like San Ysidro, California and El Paso, Texas, were told that their asylum requests could not be processed.

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The push comes after President Donald Trump railed during the final weeks of the campaign about "caravan after caravan" making its way to the border through Mexico.

Mr Trump made his hardline policies toward immigration a key issue ahead of Tuesday's midterm elections, sending thousands of U.S. troops to help secure the southern border and repeatedly drawing attention to a caravan of Central American migrants trekking through Mexico toward the United States.

"The vast majority of these applications eventually turn out to be non-meritorious", a senior administration official said, asking not to be identified.

Human rights campaigners and other critics of the Trump crackdown say that by restricting asylum seekers to the narrow border crossing points - which are already under enormous pressure - the government is effectively shutting the door on people who may truly be fleeing for their lives.

Administration officials said those denied asylum under the proclamation may be eligible for similar forms of protection if they fear returning to their countries, though they would be subject to a tougher threshold.

"Those who enter the country between ports are knowingly and voluntarily breaking the law", one unnamed official told reporters, the Post reported.

In 2017, the USA fielded more than 330,000 asylum claims, almost double the number two years earlier and surpassing Germany as highest in the world.

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