The Trump administration said Thursday it is moving ahead with a plan to clamp down on asylum claims, a controversial move designed to escalate President Trump’s broader efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.
The Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security published a joint rule prohibiting certain people caught crossing the U.S. southern border from Mexico between ports of entry from claiming asylum.
“Our asylum system is overwhelmed with too many meritless asylum claims from aliens who place a tremendous burden on our resources,” acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsensaid in a joint statement.
The president is also expected to sign an accompanying directive specifying which migrants would be subject to the new asylum limits, senior administration officials said. The officials did not say to whom the ban would apply.
Trump plans to sign the measure Friday morning before leaving Washington for a trip to Paris. Trump has long blamed the U.S. asylum system for attracting largegroups of migrants from Central America. In recent weeks, he has fixated on a migrant caravan traveling toward the U.S., calling it an “invasion” of criminals and drug dealers.
The move is expected to draw legal challenges and widespread opposition from Democrats and immigrant rights groups.
The president initially revealed his plans to unilaterally change asylum rules during a speech last week from the White House designedto keep voters’ focus on immigration ahead of the midterm elections.
“It’s going to be talking about everything. It’ll be quitecomprehensive,” Trump said.
Trump’s decision to make good on his pledge shows he has no plans to let up on his immigration crackdown, which has played a central role during his time in the White House and motivates his core supporters.
Under the new rules, people would be required to go to a legal port of entry to make a claim for asylum.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA) says migrants can claim asylum regardless of how they crossed the border and some legal experts have said the changes could violate that law.
“Denying people the right to seek asylum is cruel, unjust, and also unlawful,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.
But the administration argues that other provisions of the INA give Trump broad authority to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens” if he deems their entry is “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
The administration used the same legal reasoning to justify its travel ban, which was upheld by the Supreme Court.
It remains unclear how long the restrictions will remain in place, but officials say they are intended to streamline the asylum process while ensuring resources aren’t being tied up working on what the administration says is a growing number of fraudulent claims.
People who claim asylum at the border are currently interviewed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials to determine whether they have a “credible fear” of returning to their home countries. If they do, they are generally released from custody pending a court hearing, a practice Trump has derided as “catch-and-release.”
The new rule states that officials must assess whether migrants are eligible to seek asylum under Trump’s forthcoming proclamation. The migrant would then have to meet a higher standard of “reasonable fear
of persecution or torture” to avoid deportation and continue with the asylum process.
The administration says the number of migrants claiming “credible fear” when caught at the border has jumped from 5,000 to 97,000 over the past decade, even though only 6,000 were eventually granted asylum last year.
Officials accuse immigrants of using the claims to avoid or delay deportation and removal proceedings.
“It is a massive, frankly historically unparalleled abuse of our immigration system,” said one senior administration official.
Immigrant rights groups push back against that characterization, saying the number of asylum-seekers at the border has jumped due to rampant poverty and violence in Central America, which often results in people being targeted by drug cartels.
Trump has recently made a series of announcements aimed at the caravan, which critics have dismissed as a political stunt intended to provoke voters’ fears over a group of people who do not pose a threat to the U.S.
The president said last week he wants to detain migrants in large “tent cities” at the border until they have a court hearing, rather than releasing them beforehand.
Thursday’s announcement follows the president’s decision to send 5,200 active-duty service members to the southern border to bolster the Border Patrol’s effort to stop the caravan. Trump has said he may send as many as 15,000 military service members to the border, though it remains unclear whether he plans to follow through.
Trump also said he could sign an executive order ending birthright citizenship for children born to non-legal residents, which many lawmakers and legal scholars say would be unconstitutional.
The president’s decision to change the asylum process is expected to attract scrutiny from Democrats, who will have increased leverage to push back against Trump’s immigration policies with control of the House in the next Congress.
Immigration is expected to be a prominent issue on Capitol Hill next year. Trump is likely to redouble his request for funding to build a border wall, something Democrats vehemently oppose.
The Supreme Court could render a ruling on former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which could prompt congressional action.