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Trump signs proclamation blocking asylum seekers caught at the U.S.-Mexico border

13 Nov

President Donald Trump signed a presidential proclamation Friday morning that will block migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally from seeking asylum.

The move – which will almost certainly face legal opposition – aims to funnel asylum seekers toward ports of entry.

The ban will last 90 days or until the U.S. strikes a “safe third country” asylum deal with Mexico, according to the text of the proclamation. During that time, U.S. officials will be ordered to consult with the government of Mexico to address the issue of “large groups of aliens traveling through Mexico” in route to the U.S., the proclamation reads.

In the run-up to the midterm elections, President  Trump fumed over a group of mostly Honduran migrants trekking through Mexico toward the U.S. He questioned the legitimacy of asylum seekers who arrive at the border, calling it a “rampant abuse” of the immigration system.

The proclamation will work in tandem with a fast-track regulation posted Thursday in the Federal Register.

The regulation references the same federal statute the administration employed for Trump’s travel ban. Under the statute, the president can bar the entry of foreigners deemed “detrimental to the interests of the United  States.”

Migrants arrested between ports of entry will still be able to apply for humanitarian relief through other legal avenues, such as “withholding of removal” or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

But under those programs, migrants face a higher bar to prove a fear of returning to their home countries, and generally aren’t able to petition for a green card or for family members to join them.

The ban blocking asylum seekers between ports of entry will apply to unaccompanied minors, according to guidance posted online late Friday evening by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A Justice Department official said the opposite on a call with reporters Friday morning, but DOJ later confirmed the asylum ban will apply to unaccompanied children.

While the Trump administration has painted the level of illegal immigration as a crisis, the number of Border Patrol arrests in fiscal year 2018 – a proxy for illegal crossings – fell below the average over the past decade. A September 2017 Homeland Security Department report found the border was more difficult to cross illegally “than ever before.”

There has, however, been a change in the composition of border crossings. The number of family members caught at the southwest border in the past year reached the highest level since such record-keeping began in fiscal year 2012.

Efforts to push asylum seekers toward ports of entry could result in backups on the Mexican side of the border. When a caravan of roughly 150 migrants arrived at the San Ysidro port of entry in the spring, asylum seekers waited for days as border officials limited the number of people able to make a claim.

“You cannot simply move all your resources toward migrant processing,” a DHS official said Friday, adding that “discussion are ongoing” as to how U.S. Customs and Border Protection will handle a larger volume of entries at ports.

Mexican officials said they counted roughly 4,800 migrants seeking temporary shelter in a stadium in Mexico City, according to The Associated Press.

A September report by the DHS inspector general’s office raised questions about CBP’s use of “metering” to limit entry of asylum seekers at ports, saying it “may have led to additional illegal border crossings.”

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker praised Trump in a written statement issued Friday morning.

“Thanks to the decisive order from President Trump, we are continuing to provide a path to protection for those who truly need it, while stopping our generosity from being abused,” he said.

But Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California, top Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, urged Trump to work with Congress rather than engage in “unconstitutional attempts to circumvent the law.”

“No one is above the law, including the President,” they said in a joint statement. “It is particularly ugly that today’s announcement seeks to impose illegal restrictions on migrants fleeing violence and abuse.”


CLARIFICATION: This post has been updated to include USCIS guidance issued late Friday that said the asylum bar would apply to unaccompanied minors. A Justice Department official said the opposite on a call with reporters Friday morning, but DOJ later confirmed the asylum ban will apply to unaccompanied children.