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Trump issues decree limiting asylum protection for migrants crossing illegally into the U.S.

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President Trump issued a decree Friday to set in motion his administration’s new restrictions on access to asylum protections for those who enter the United States illegally, asserting broad executive authorities that will take effect after midnight but could be challenged in federal court before then.

Under the new measures, announced by administration officials Thursday, Trump will rely on the same emergency authority invoked during his “travel ban” of early 2017 to bar anyone crossing the Mexico border illegally from qualifying for asylum.

Those protections will remain available to those who apply at official border crossings, or U.S. ports of entry, and the restrictions would not apply to underage asylum seekers who arrive without a parent or guardian.

In his proclamation, Trump said the measures were necessary to prepare for the arrival of thousands of Central Americans traveling in caravan groups through Mexico toward the U.S. border with no apparent “lawful basis for admission into our country.”

“The arrival of large numbers of aliens will contribute to the overloading of our immigration and asylum system and to the release of thousands of aliens into the interior of the United States,” the proclamation states.

“The continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border has precipitated a crisis and undermines the integrity of our borders,” it continues. “I therefore must take immediate action to protect the national interest, and to maintain the effectiveness of the asylum system for legitimate asylum seekers who demonstrate that they have fled persecution and warrant the many special benefits associated with asylum.”

Asylum claims have increased fourfold since 2014, compounding a backlog of more than 750,000 cases in U.S. immigration courts.

The Trump administration’s emergency restrictions would still allow those seeking refuge to potentially qualify for a lesser legal status known as “withholding of removal” that would spare them, on a provisional basis, from deportation.

That status would not provide a chance at legal permanent residency or citizenship, but it would still give those who enter illegally a way to avoid being sent back to Central America if they can convince a U.S. asylum officer they face a “reasonable fear” of persecution.

According to the White House proclamation issued Friday, the asylum restrictions will remain in effect for 90 days and would terminate if the government of Mexico agrees to a long-standing U.S. request to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport Central Americans to Mexico if they have entered from Mexican territory.

The Mexican government has given no indication it plans to do so.

An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Central Americans are currently en route through Mexico traveling in caravan groups, the largest of which is preparing to depart Mexico City after resting several days at a sports complex there.

Mexican authorities say nearly 5,000 migrants are traveling with that group, the vast majority of whom are from Honduras, where the caravan originated. Of those, more than 1,700 are younger than 18, and at last 300 are younger than five.

Many say they are fleeing gang violence and death threats, with plans to request humanitarian protections in the United States. Others acknowledge they are seeking jobs or reunion with family members, motivations that would not qualify them for asylum under U.S. law.

The group is planning to travel more than 1,000 miles to the U.S. border crossing in Tijuana, a journey that could take several weeks if caravan members continue walking and hitchhiking most of the way.

Large numbers of Central Americans are already lined up in informal queues in the Tijuana area, because U.S. customs officers limit the number of asylum seekers allowed to approach the border crossing each day, citing capacity and personnel limits.

Senior administration officials gave no indication they plan to increase resources and personnel in the San Diego area to cope with a potentially large increase in the number of people approaching the ports of entryists.

One Homeland Security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity at his agency’s insistence, criticized the caravan’s decision to take a much longer route toward San Diego, instead of approaching the U.S. border in South Texas, which is much closer geographically.

“The premise that individuals who are supposed to be fleeing persecution with legitimate claims of persecution would make a decision to, instead of presenting themselves for protection in Mexico or at the closest U.S. ports of entry, travel an additional 1,000 miles to a specific port of entry to pursue their claim calls into question the legitimacy” of that claim, the official said.

The longer route to Tijuana is considered safer for migrants who cannot afford a smuggling guide. Shorter routes to the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas are under the control of criminal groups who routinely kill and kidnap those who do not pay tolls for passing through territory under their control.

Immigrant advocacy groups who have denounced Trump’s new restrictions say U.S. laws clearly afford asylum protections to foreigners who reach American soil and state a fear of return, no matter where they arrive.

Trump officials say the Supreme Court has affirmed the president’s executive authority on immigration matters. They cite presidential powers under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the same provision Trump used to block foreigners from several Muslim-majority nations under the travel ban.

The ban triggered numerous legal challenges and forced the administration to issue three different iterations before a revised version was upheld in June by 5 to 4 Supreme Court vote.

Credit:Washington Post

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