The Trump administration on Monday announced a sweeping new policy tightening restrictions for asylum seekers, in a move that could drastically reduce the number of migrants eligible to enter the United States in this way.
The new rule, published in the Federal Register, would require most migrants entering through America’s southern border to first seek asylum in one of the countries they traversed – whether in Mexico, in Central America, or elsewhere on their journey. In most cases, only if that application is denied would they then be able to seek asylum in the United States.
“While the recent supplemental funding was absolutely vital to helping confront the crisis, the truth is that it will not be enough without targeted changes to the legal framework of our immigration system,” Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a statement. “Ultimately, today’s action will reduce the overwhelming burdens on our domestic system caused by asylum-seekers failing to seek urgent protection in the first available country, economic migrants lacking a legitimate fear of persecution, and the transnational criminal organizations, traffickers, and smugglers exploiting our system for profits.”
Sure to ignite a new firestorm over the administration’s immigration approach, the new policy follows the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, commonly referred to as the “remain in Mexico” policy. Under that policy, asylum seekers were often told to go back to Mexico to await hearings, rather than be allowed to remain in the U.S.
Democrats railed against that policy, with 2020 hopeful Beto O’Rourke calling it “inhumane.”
The latest change is meant to crack down on asylum seekers coming to the U.S. more for economic reasons than to escape persecution in their home countries. The new policy does include a couple other exceptions, mainly for certain victims of human trafficking.
Reducing the number of asylum seekers would ease the burden on federal agencies currently overwhelmed by the number of people looking to enter the United States. Children and adults crossing illegally are often separated, with the children placed in detention facilities that are lacking in resources, resulting in outcries against the administration’s current practices.
“This Rule is a lawful exercise of authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum,” Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement. “The United States is a generous country but is being completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens along the southern border. 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—while ensuring that no one is removed from the United States who is more likely than not to be tortured or persecuted on account of a protected ground.”