President Trump signed a proclamation Friday to block illegal immigrants who jump the southwest border from being able to claim asylum, hoping to deter at least some of the migrant caravans currently streaming north through Mexico.
Officials said he was tapping the same powers he flexed last year in his travel ban, declaring a halt to allowing anyone to enter the country if they try to sneak. While that’s already unlawful, issuing the proclamation is a way of triggering a new policy aimed strictly at halting bogus asylum claims.
The changes go into effect Saturday morning.
“We want people to come into our country, but they have to come into the country legally,” the president told reporters at the White House.
The goal, officials said, was to try to pressure actual asylum-seekers from Central America to stay in Mexico, which is deemed a safe country and which has already offered many of them asylum.
But most have refused, saying they only want to reach the U.S. — an indication that they are less like asylum seekers fleeing government persecution, and fit more into the category of traditional illegal immigrants seeking jobs or to be reunited with families.
“The bottom line here is these individuals who are fleeing persecution and who need protection, it is in their best interest … to seek that protection as soon as possible,” a senior official said in briefing reporters.
People who show up at border crossings, even if they don’t have permission to enter, will still be allowed to present themselves and ask for asylum. Those who decide to skip the line and sneak across the border, though, will be denied the chance.
The goal is to try to funnel people to the ports of entry, where there are more resources set up to process asylum-seekers.
But the government also throttles the flow of people through those ports of entry, so one consequence would be to have people pooling on the Mexican side of the border.
Officials said the proclamation could be ended before the 90-day period if Mexico were to start allowing the U.S. to deport non-Mexicans back to that country. That appears to be a way to pressure Mexico to do more to stop people using its territory as a path from Central America to the U.S.
“Any person who has a legitimate claim of asylum, who is fleeing persecution, is still able to have that claim heard. The only requirement is they go to a port of entry,” an official said.
The administration’s move underscores how frustrated Mr. Trump has become over the lack of action in Congress to stem the surge of illegal immigrants posing as asylum seekers.
Meant to be a protection for people fleeing government persecution, the numbers of asylum seekers have ballooned in recent years as they realized it can be used as a shortcut to gain an illegal foothold in the U.S.
More than 60 percent of illegal immigrants caught from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador demand asylum, the government said.
While other illegal immigrants nabbed at the border are quickly processed and deported, those who ask for asylum are granted what’s called a “credible fear” hearing. If they expressing a worry about being sent home, they are allowed to stay and apply for asylum.
Authorities say it’s a low bar and migrants are coached on “magic words” they can say to qualify.
Few of them will actually earn asylum — just 17 percent of people who cleared the initial step last year ended up getting asylum — but few actually get deported. Most were already released into the country where they disappear into the shadows with other illegal immigrants.
IMr. Trump expressed his frustration Friday morning, saying the best solution would be for Congress to act.
“They have to pass new immigration laws because they’re flooding our country,” he said. “The laws are obsolete. It’s only because we don’t have the Democrats’ votes. We want people to come into our country, but they have to come into our country legally. They have to have merit. We need support from the Democrats.”
Mr. Trump’s proclamation takes advantage of a new regulation announced just a day earlier, which lays out the new policy distinguishing between asylum claims at border crossings and those made by illegal immigrants who jump the border.
Immigrant-rights advocates said that new regulation is illegal. They pointed to U.S. law that seems to suggest people have the right to request asylum no matter how they enter the US.
But administration officials said part of the law allows the attorney general to write regulations to control how and when asylum may be requested.