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By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
The Trump administration is attempting to change the ways that immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Central America request asylum in the United States. President Trump signed a proclamation on Nov. 9 that will effectively suspend the granting of asylum to migrants who cross the U.S. border with Mexico illegally for up to 90 days. From Nov. 10, when it went into effect, migrants must now present themselves at U.S. ports of entry to qualify for asylum. This policy contradicts existing federal law that allows asylum requests to be made anywhere on U.S. soil.
The Approaching Caravan of Migrants
For weeks, President Trump has been repeatedly expressing concerns about a caravan of several thousand Honduran migrants headed toward the U.S.-Mexico border on foot. The caravan left Honduras in mid-October, and isn’t expected to reach the U.S. for at least a few weeks. The current size of the caravan is estimated at roughly 4,000 to 5,000 people, but its number is expected to diminish as the group moves north.
‘Metering’ At Points of Entry
President Trump’s new policy is clearly aimed at stopping the approaching caravan before it even reaches the United States. However, if it does, the Trump administration is considering reinstating a policy of “metering” at ports of entry. This system allows Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to admit a limited number of asylum seekers at one time for credible fear interviews—ostensibly only as many as the port can logistically handle. As evidenced by past use of metering, this usually results in very large groups of migrants waiting their turn on the Mexican side of the border.
Also by Sylvia Longmire: Why Terrorists Don’t Need the Migrant Caravan to Enter America
Many who don’t want to wait choose to enter illegally between ports of entry. However, with the new asylum policy, migrants who cross the border this way will not be eligible to request asylum and will be deported on the spot.
The Immigration and Nationality Act
Representatives from immigrant rights groups and legal organizations are already questioning the legality of the proclamation—especially since it contradicts language in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The Trump administration is using the same rationale for the new rule as it did for the travel ban of individuals from several Middle Eastern countries. While the INA says that anyone can claim asylum anywhere on U.S. soil and not just at a port of entry, it also says that the president can place any restrictions on the admission of immigrants that he deems necessary.
According to the New York Times, migrants who are barred from applying for asylum under the new rule can apply for two other unspecified programs that are much smaller, and also much less likely to result in the granting of asylum. An administration official told the press these two programs would satisfy U.S. treaty obligations with regards to refugees and immigrants—a claim that critics say is untrue. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees stated, “The United States must make sure anyone fleeing violence or persecution can get protection…without obstruction.”
Trump’s Efforts Against Illegal Immigration
Since taking office, President Trump has attempted several times and in many different ways to limit both legal and illegal immigration into the United States. This includes attempts to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for foreigners fleeing natural disasters and civil wars, and his order to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Almost 400,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended near the southwest border in fiscal year 2018, and in September 2018 alone, Border Patrol agents apprehended a record 16,658 people in family units.
The new policy may place a temporary halt on asylum requests from Central American migrants. However, it does nothing to alleviate the backlog of asylum cases already being processed. According to the National Immigration Forum, as of July 2018, there were over 733,000 pending immigration cases, and the average wait time for an immigration hearing was approximately two years. As of August 2018, there are 351 immigration judges presiding in the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, with 82 of them having been sworn in under Trump and another 75 expected by year’s end. However, despite a dramatic reduction in hiring time, the Government Accountability Office indicated it was still taking about two years to hire immigration judges, and that the review office lacked a clear hiring strategy.