On Monday, the Trump Administration took action to end asylum protections for most Central American migrants.
According to a new rule published in the Federal Register , asylum seekers who pass through another country first will be ineligible for asylum at the U.S. southern border. The rule, expected to go into effect Tuesday, also applies to children who have crossed the border alone.
There are some exceptions: If someone has been trafficked, if the country the migrant passed through did not sign one of the major international treaties that govern how refugees are managed (though most Western countries have signed them) or if an asylum-seeker sought protection in a country but was denied, then a migrant could still apply for U.S. asylum.
The change reverses decades of ineffective policy that allows migrants to asylum shop.
Attorney General Bill Barr said of the change, “This rule will decrease forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States.”
As usual, the policy is expected to be challenged in court.
The policy is almost certain to face a legal challenge. U.S. law allows refugees to request asylum when they arrive at the U.S. regardless of how they did so, but there is an exception for those who have come through a country considered to be “safe.” But the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs asylum law, is vague on how a country is determined “safe”; it says “pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement.”
Right now, the U.S. has such an agreement, known as a “safe third country,” only with Canada. Under a recent agreement with Mexico, Central American countries were considering a regional compact on the issue, but nothing has been decided. Guatemalan officials were expected in Washington on Monday, but apparently a meeting between Trump and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales was canceled amid a court challenge in Guatemala over whether the country could agree to a safe third with the U.S.
The ACLU has already chimed in to say the policy change is illegal. “The rule, if upheld, would effectively eliminate asylum for those at the southern border,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said. “But it is patently unlawful.”
The purpose of the change is to address the gap between passing the initial, cursory interview and getting denied upon more thorough consideration. Since the courts have an 800,000 case backup, migrants wait years inside the U.S. border waiting to finish the process.
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