WASHINGTON — The Trump Administration is taking another step in its efforts to restrict the flow of migrants coming to the U.S., announcing a major crackdown on asylum seekers on Monday.
- Trump Administration trying to restrict flow of migrants into U.S.
- New policy: if an asylum seeker passes through another country on way to U.S., they must 1st seek asylum there
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The new policy, which is set to go into effect on Tuesday, states that if an asylum seeker passes through another country on the way to the United States, they must first seek asylum there.
The new policy will mean a lot of Central American migrants will have to first seek asylum in countries like Mexico before they actually cross the border into the U.S.
“If this regulation is allowed to exist the way it was written, it would basically say the United States is now closed,” said Leon Fresco, a prominent attorney with in Holland & Knight's Washington, D.C., office.
The new rule represents a major escalation of President Donald Trump’s battle to reduce the number of people crossing the U.S Mexico border. Under the new regulations, migrants will no longer be eligible for asylum if they pass through another country first and fail to apply for asylum in that country.
“This is a first time concern of the United States with regard to what is the pathway in which you travel to make a refugee claim,” Fresco explained in an interview with Spectrum News.
Fresco said the policy is flawed, pointing out many countries like Mexico aren’t capable of accommodating hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.
“If there was actually a legitimate asylum process in Mexico, where people could actually claim asylum and live there safely and the country have a capability of absorbing the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, then sure, that would make sense,” he said.
“The reason people go through Mexico is because that system is not there, there is not a system for accepting refugees for processing claims, for allowing people to live there. That is one of the things that the United States should be trying to accomplish,” Fresco said.
The rule allows a few exceptions for trafficking victims and those who have already been denied asylum in a different country, but Fresco said those instances are extremely rare.
“If you’ve been trafficked or if you can prove that you have a fear of those countries at which you’ve traveled through, but the problem is for the countries for which you’ve traveled through, it’s not an issue of whether you fear them, it’s an issue of whether that country has an asylum system and a capability of accepting asylum seekers, and that’s why the statute requires these third party agreements,” he said.
The White House said they are taking this action because the immigration system has been swamped by asylum seekers, with cases in immigration courts tripling between 2013 and 2018.
Trump has been considering enacting the policy and has briefed several lawmakers on Capitol Hill over the last few weeks about the changes. Fresco recommends the administration take a very different approach to combat the problem.
“That’s a reason to have very strong, expedited and robust screening procedures so that the people who are making claims can be vetted and determine whether they will be able to be actual legitimate refugees or not,” he said.
The rule is likely to face a legal challenges from immigrant rights and civil liberties groups. In the past, federal judges have not been accommodating to the administration’s attempts to change the asylum policy, including the president’s policy that denied protection to migrants who failed to enter the U.S. through a legal point of entry.
“Both sides have an argument. The government has an argument where the law says the government can add new reasons why someone is ineligible for asylum,” Fresco said.
“The plaintiffs have an argument, that says yes, but one of the reasons can’t be this crossing of a third country because the statutes specifically discusses this issue and says that if you’re going to cross a third country that country has to have an agreement with the U.S. to take asylum seekers before you can actually say you’re disqualified,” he added.
Now, it will be up to the courts to decide which part of the current law is most important. Congress may also seek to get involved. They could largely unravel the administration’s plans by simply deciding not to fund this effort in upcoming budget negotiations.