DOJ and DHS release new rule limiting eligibility for asylum-seekers

As part of the ongoing effort by the Trump administration to crack down on illegal immigration, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice worked together to formulate a new rule that would limit the number of migrants eligible to claim asylum at the southern U.S. border.

That new Interim Final Rule from DHS and DOJ would require asylum-seekers to apply for asylum in the first safe “third country” they transit through on their way to the U.S. This means that the bulk of those migrants headed north from Central and South America would have to stop and seek asylum in Mexico or another country along the way.

The reversal

In a joint statement on Monday from DHS and DOJ, the specific statutory authority allowing the rule change was cited, as was the intention to “enhance the integrity of the asylum process by placing further restrictions or limitations on eligibility for aliens who seek asylum in the United States.”

The new rule would require migrants to “apply for protection from persecution and torture” in the first safe “third country” they reached, with three exceptions — those who applied for asylum in a third country but were denied, those who could prove they were victims of human trafficking, and those who transited through countries that were not designated as a “safe third country.”

The statement further made it clear that asylum was a “discretionary benefit” offered by the U.S. government that no individual non-citizen had a guaranteed right to receive.

Official statements

“This Rule is a lawful exercise of authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum,” Attorney General William Barr said. “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,” Barr added.

DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said that the interim rule would prove helpful in the meantime until Congress worked to legislatively change the nation’s asylum laws to reduce the number of those seeking to exploit and overwhelm the system.

“Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States and enable DHS and DOJ to more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border, leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey,” McAleenan said.

“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,” he added.

Usual suspects oppose change

Of course, Reuters reported that this rule change would be legally challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, was cited as a cause for concern by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and was denounced as an overreach and violation of law by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Regardless of that unsurprising criticism from those who reflexively oppose everything done by the Trump administration, this new rule limiting the eligibility of those who can seek asylum at the U.S. border is desperately needed and long overdue and, hopefully, will withstand any and all challenges to its legality.

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