White House readies crackdown on asylum seekers coming through Mexico

The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security released the textof an interim regulation Thursday afternoon outlining new restrictions on asylum that will be the subject of a presidential proclamation, expected to be issued by the White House Friday.

The interim rule, which will be published in the Federal Register and open for public comment Friday morning, establishes “a mandatory bar to asylum eligibility” for refugees crossing the southwestern border between official ports of entry. It contains a finding that granting asylum in those circumstances  “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

During a call with reporters Thursday afternoon, senior administration officials explained that Trump would be exercising the same “use of authority that the Supreme Court upheld in Trump v. Hawaii,” better known as the Travel Ban case, to make such a determination about migrants who enter the U.S. from Mexico.

Under existing U.S. law,anyone who is physically present in the country is eligible to apply for asylum here, regardless of how they entered the country. Many Central American asylum seekers, and others who pass through Mexico from other parts of the world, cross the border unofficially and wait to be apprehended by Border Patrol officers. Others present themselves at official ports of entry, of which there are 48 between San Diego and Brownsville, Texas. But the procedure for dealing with them has been the same: anyone who expresses a fear of returning to their home country is referred to an asylum officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who conducts what’s known as a “credible fear” interview to assess whether the person has a “well-founded fear” of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. If they qualify, the practice has been to release them into the population for a hearing on granting asylum status, which can take months or years.

President Trump has vowed to end that “catch and release” practice.

Under the new regulation, senior administration officials explained Thursday, border agents will now determine whether immigrants apprehended at the border are subject to the president’s forthcoming proclamation and, if so, any claims of fear will automatically be denied.

Trump was widely expected to announce new policy changes to the asylum process during an address at the White House last week. However, he offered only vague pledges to end “catch and release” and build “massive cities of tents” to house asylum seekers “for a long time if necessary.” The speech was widely viewed as an attempt to stoke fears about the “caravan” of Central American migrants heading for the border, which he had made a centerpiece of his messaging for the midterms.

CNN reported Thursday that the administration was working to finalize language on an executive action aimed at limiting the number of asylum seekers allowed into the U.S. before the President’s departure for Paris on Friday, though it was unclear whether the documents would be ready for Trump to sign by then.

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A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico
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A day in the life of the migrant caravan in Mexico
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, takes a rest on the road, as she walks to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road with her son Adonai, as they make their way to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File photo SEARCH "GLENDA ESCOBAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, plays with her son Adonai in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, sleeps in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photograph with her children Adonai and Denzel in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, smiles as she rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses with her son Denzel, 8, as they rest in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road with her son Denzel as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her sons Adonai and Denzel, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Denzel, 8, holds his brother Adonai, 5, near their mother Glenda Escobar, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her sons Adonai and Denzel, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, cries after talking on the phone, in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, rests on the road, on her way to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photograph as she rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, takes a ride in a vintage car with her children Adonai and Denzel, as they walk to Pijijiapan from Mapastepec, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Adonai, 5, son of Glenda Escobar, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, smiles as he rests in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Mexico October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Glenda Escobar, 33, a migrant from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, prepares the sleeping place after arriving at a makeshift camp with her children Adonai and Denzel, in Pijijiapan, Mexico, October 25, 2018. Picture taken October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
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According to NBC News, administration officials were expecting to be sued over the new asylum plan even before it can be implemented. But the network said the White House had decided to go ahead with the regulations, counting on a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, which has been remade by Trump’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the 5-4 majority against Trump’s earlier travel ban, in Trump v Hawaii.

Leading up to the midterms, Trump and members of his administration and Republican candidates had pointed to caravans of mostly Central American migrants traveling north through Mexico as evidence of a “border crisis.”They portrayed existing asylum laws as “loopholes” and accused migrants of making fraudulent asylum claims based on a fear of violence or persecution.  Experts have repeatedly rejected this characterization.

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