The Trump administration last week put a new asylum rule in place that aims to stem the tide of migrants who are overwhelming the southern border — and U.S. resources.
Until Congress steps in with a substantial immigration overhaul, the administration is left with few other options.
The rule, published in the Federal Register, states that asylum seekers who pass through another country before reaching the U.S. border won't be eligible for asylum. Migrants from Central America, who must first pass through Mexico, will be most impacted by the change.
Not surprisingly, the rule is already facing legal challenges, including from the ACLU, which is calling it an "asylum ban" and a violation of domestic and international law.
But is it?
The rule does allow for several exceptions, such as for human trafficking victims and asylum seekers denied protection from a country they've already passed through.
And the rationale for the new policy is sound.
"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," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. "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."
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the $4.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress isn't sufficient to address the chaos faced by border agencies and that the new rule should quell the "irregular migration" to the U.S.
According to a joint statement by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the departments have been overwhelmed with significant increases of migrants claiming fear of persecution or torture when caught by border officials. That in turn has led to a tripling of cases between 2013 and 2018 that are referred to immigration judges.
"Only a small minority of these individuals, however, are ultimately granted asylum," the departments stated. "The large number of meritless asylum claims places an extraordinary strain on the nation's immigration system ..."
David Inserra, an immigration and homeland security policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, says the Trump administration is using whatever tools it can to control what's going on at the border. Inserra says it would be preferable for Congress to take broader action related to immigration and asylum claims, but given the current political realities, he believes the administration is acting within its authority.
Inserra says an approach to consider — and one similar to an Obama-era program — would be for U.S. officials to meet asylum seekers closer to their home countries and adjudicate those claims away from the border — relieving some pressure from border agencies.
As an increasing number of migrants who claim asylum aren't showing up to court and seem to be using asylum claims as a free pass into the country, the federal government must act to enforce its borders — and its laws.
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