What to expect from Trump’s plan to restrict asylum

Migrants, part of a caravan traveling from Central America en route to the United States, sit in the back of a truck as they hitchhike a ride to Mexico City

The Trump administration issued a new rule today that would strip certain immigrants’ right to request asylum, if the president so decides.

It’s unclear exactly which asylum seekers will be affected. The regulation only applies to immigrants who:

  • cross the Mexican border illegally AND
  • have been explicitly barred from entering the US by an executive order.

Donald Trump is expected to sign that executive order tomorrow, Nov. 9, which should announce who he is targeting. But his recent tirades against a “caravan” of Central American immigrants headed to the US provides a hint.

Shrinking the number of asylum seekers

The White House has been brainstorming about different ways to stop a growing number of families and children from that region from requesting asylum at the US border. Under Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice has already narrowed the criteria to apply. The administration’s failed family-separation policy earlier this year was another attempt to dissuade asylum-seekers.

Requesting asylum is legal under US and international laws, regardless of whether an applicant enters the country legally or illegally. But senior White House officials claim the law gives the president broad authority to bar “all aliens or any class of aliens” if he deems them a threat to the country.

Trump’s administration used the same rationale to justify its travel ban on citizens from several majority-Muslim countries, which was accepted by the Supreme Court after several iterations and amendments.

Administration officials say the goal of the new rule is to reroute asylum seekers to ports of entry, so their claims can be more quickly processed, and deserving asylum seekers can get protection sooner. This is hard to do currently, they say, because of a barrage of applications by people who ultimately get denied.

At the moment, US Border Patrol agents who come across asylum seekers who enter the country illegally refer them to asylum officers for screening; if their case has merit, they are sent to immigration courts to make the final decision. It’s a process that can take years.

It’s unclear exactly how the new rule would speed it up, but it could transfer immigrants’ waiting time south of the border. Ports of entry have already been limiting the number of people they take in, saying they don’t have enough capacity.

Immigrant advocates will likely sue

Like many other Trumpian efforts to curb immigration, this one too will likely be challenged in court. Just a few minutes after its publication, immigration lawyers were pointing out the exact passages of the law it contradicts.

In fact, immigrant advocates already sued the Trump administration for turning away asylum seekers at ports of entry, alleging that it violates immigration laws and the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. The case, which was filed in July of 2017, is ongoing.

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