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Trump tightens U.S. asylum rules

Will deny asylum to migrants who enter country illegally; experts say move will face legal challenges

President Donald Trump on Friday invoked extraordinary national security powers to deny asylum to migrants who enter the country illegally, tightening the border as caravans of Central Americans approach the U.S.

Mr. Trump is using the same powers he used to push through a version of the travel ban that was upheld by the Supreme Court. The proclamation puts into place regulations adopted on Thursday that circumvent laws stating that anyone is eligible for asylum no matter how he or she enters the country.

“We need people in our country but they have to come in legally and they have to have merit,” Mr. Trump said on Friday as he departed for Paris.

Administration officials say the measures, likely to face legal challenges, go into effect on Saturday for at least three months, but could be extended. They don’t affect people who are already in the country.

The changes are meant to funnel asylum seekers through official border crossings for speedy rulings, officials said, instead of having them try to circumvent such crossings on the nearly 3,200-km border.

But the busy ports of entry already have long lines and waits, forcing officials to tell some migrants to turn around and come back to make their claims. Even despite that, illegal crossings are historically low.

The move was spurred in part by caravans of migrants slowly moving north on foot but will apply to anyone caught crossing illegally, officials said. It’s unknown whether those in the caravan, many fleeing violence in their homeland, plan to cross illegally.

Overloading of system

“The arrival of large numbers… will contribute to the overloading of our immigration and asylum system and to the release of thousands… into the interior of the U.S.,” Mr. Trump said in the proclamation, calling it a crisis.

Administration officials said those denied asylum under the proclamation may be eligible for similar forms of protection if they fear returning to their countries, though they would be subject to a tougher threshold. Those forms of protection include “withholding of removal”, which is similar to asylum, but doesn’t allow for green cards or bringing families or protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The U.S. is also working with Mexico to send some migrants back across the border. Right now, laws allow only Mexican nationals to be swiftly returned and increasingly those claiming asylum are from Central America, not Mexico.

The announcement was the latest push to enforce Mr. Trump’s hardline stance on immigration through regulatory changes and presidential orders, bypassing Congress which has not passed any immigration law reform. But those efforts have been largely thwarted by legal challenges and, in the case of family separations this year, stymied by a global outcry that prompted Mr. Trump to scrap them.

Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the latest changes were clearly illegal. “U.S. law specifically allows individuals to apply for asylum whether or not they are at a port of entry. It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree,” he said.

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