Trump Administration Moves to Restrict Asylum Claims by Migrants - EcoFinBiz Blog

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Trump Administration Moves to Restrict Asylum Claims by Migrants

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(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration said it would restrict people who illegally cross the U.S. border with Mexico from claiming asylum, as the president seeks to choke off migration from Latin America.

The change to asylum procedures was published Thursday by the Justice Department. President Donald Trump has blamed U.S. asylum rules for luring thousands of migrants a year from Central American countries. The new rule is almost certain to be challenged in courts.

“Our asylum system is overwhelmed with too many meritless asylum claims from aliens who place a tremendous burden on our resources, preventing us from being able to expeditiously grant asylum to those who truly deserve it,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in a joint statement.

The new restrictions on asylum claims won’t take effect until Trump issues a proclamation limiting or suspending entry into the U.S. from Mexico, according to the rule. Trump plans to issue the proclamation on Friday, an administration official who asked not to be identified told reporters in a briefing.

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Under the rule, migrants seeking asylum will have to make their claims at official ports of entry on the border. There, “they would be processed in a controlled, orderly, and lawful manner,” according to the rule.

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

“The administration’s asylum ban is unlawful and ignores our country’s basic values. There will be lawsuits,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who led the group’s challenge to the administration’s family separation policy.

According to U.S. law, any migrant who enters the country “whether or not at a designated port of arrival” can apply for asylum. The administration believes it can modify that with its new rule. Many migrants who cross the border with Mexico illegally -- especially children and families -- present themselves to Customs and Border Patrol officers as soon as they can and claim asylum.

People who claim asylum are now interviewed by U.S. officials to assess whether they have a “credible fear” of being returned to their home countries. If so, they are placed in immigration proceedings. Most are released with orders to appear in court later, a procedure Trump has belittled as “catch and release.”

Under the new rule, the “credible fear” interviews would be preceded by determinations of whether Trump’s proclamation applies to migrants caught crossing the border. If so, they would have to meet a higher standard to apply for asylum, showing “a reasonable fear of persecution or torture” in order to avoid deportation.

Trump made immigration a key issue in Tuesday’s election, stoking fear among his supporters about a migrant “caravan” that’s still hundreds of miles away in Mexico. Trump said last week that he planned to modify the asylum process to make it more difficult for Central American migrants in the caravan to request protection.

Administration officials argue the asylum system is abused by people who are not seeking security in the U.S. but are instead searching for economic opportunity or trying to reunite with family members.

The number of “credible fear” interviews conducted by U.S. officials increased from about 5,000 a year in fiscal 2008 to 97,000 last year, according to Department of Justice data cited in a Federal Register notice of the rule. About 89 percent of applicants were determined to have credible fear last year, up from 77 percent in 2008. But only about 6,000 immigrants succeeded in completing the entire process to be granted asylum, according to the notice.

--With assistance from Kartikay Mehrotra.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Epstein in Washington at jepstein32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Mike Dorning

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