Trump administration moves to curb migrants' asylum claims

Sergio Conner
November 9, 2018

President Donald Trump has blamed USA asylum rules for luring thousands of migrants a year from Central American countries.

The new rule is nearly certain to be challenged in courts.

Immigrant advocacy groups have complained that under Trump, U.S. border police have made it more hard for people to cross into the country at ports of entry and have outright turned away some migrants.

The new restrictions on asylum claims won't take effect until Trump issues a proclamation limiting or suspending entry into the USA from Mexico, according to the rule. "It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree", said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, in a statement.

"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, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Fiscal Year 2018, almost 90 percent of Central American migrants who arrived at the border and claimed "credible fear" passed their initial asylum-seeking interview.

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On a call with reporters Thursday, senior administration officials emphasized that point, claiming that it would mean asylum claims will be handled more efficiently.

The administration has long said immigration officials are drowning in asylum cases partly because people falsely claim asylum and then live in the US with work permits. But the busy ports of entry already have long lines and waits, forcing immigration officials to tell some migrants to come back to make their claims.

"What we are attempting to do is trying to funnel. asylum claims through the ports of entry where we are better resourced, have better capabilities and better manpower and staffing to actually handle those claims in an expeditious and efficient manner", they said. "An alien simply crosses the border illegally, finds a border patrol agent, and using well-coached language by lawyers and others that stand there and try to get fees or whatever they can get".

Curbing immigration has been a signature issue for Trump, who pushed it hard in the days leading up to Tuesday's midterm elections, railing against the caravans that are still hundreds of miles from the border. 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 also suggested he'd revoke the right to citizenship for babies born to non-U.S. citizens on American soil and erect massive "tent cities" to detain migrants. "Over the past decade, the overall percentage of aliens subject to expedited removal and referred, as part of the initial screening process, for a credible-fear interview jumped from approximately 5% to above 40%, and the total number of credible-fear referrals for interviews increased from about 5,000 a year in Fiscal Year ('FY") 2008 to about 97,000 in FY 2018'.

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