Many ‘cannot reasonably present at a port of entry and instead must enter elsewhere along the southern border…’
(Kartikay Mehrotra, Bloomberg News) The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the Trump administration’s latest attempt to seal the U.S. southern border by stopping undocumented migrants from seeking asylum after they’ve already entered the country.
The left-wing advocacy group is seeking a court order temporarily preventing the government from restricting asylum applications to those made at official ports of entry. The restrictions will take effect Saturday after President Donald Trump signed a proclamation formally changing asylum rules.
The administration is trying to stop migrants from entering the country through illegal border crossings and then applying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for political asylum within a year. Currently, that application is followed by a so-called “credible fear” interview to determine the legitimacy of the applicant’s plight in their home country.
Under the new rules, migrants will first be scrutinized at the border for their method of entry. Those determined to have been evading authorities will rejected for asylum.
Administration officials claim the asylum system is broken and has been manipulated by foreign nationals to participate in the thriving U.S. economy. Immigrant advocates previously sued Trump administration in October claiming the government has internally restricted the number of asylum seekers who can be processed daily.
Many of those seeking refuge in the U.S. “cannot reasonably present at a port of entry and instead must enter elsewhere along the southern border,” the ACLU said in Friday’s complaint. Among the reasons: a lack of knowledge that officials ports of entry exist; an increased rate of “arbitrary denial” at the ports of entry; and life-threatening delays at these entry gates, according to the filing.
“Asylum seekers fleeing their home countries in Central America face an arduous journey to the United States, involving a high risk of violence, including sexual assault, along the way,” the ACLU said. “The region of Mexico near the border with the United States is a particularly violent area with limited law enforcement capacity. Asylum seekers turned back from a port of entry have been raped, beaten, and kidnapped and held for ransom by cartel members waiting outside.”
Trump made immigration a key issue in Tuesday’s elections, stoking fear among his supporters about a migrant “caravan” that’s still hundreds of miles away in Mexico. Trump said last week that he planned to modify the asylum process to make it more difficult for Central American migrants in the caravan to request protection.
“Our southern border is in crisis,” Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in a statement following Trump’s announcement. “The hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens who have unlawfully crossed our border are posing a significant threat to the government’s ability to effectively enforce our nation’s immigration laws.”
The number of “credible fear” interviews conducted by U.S. officials increased from about 5,000 a year in fiscal 2008 to 97,000 last year, according to Justice Department data cited in a Federal Register notice. About 89 percent of applicants were determined to have credible fear last year, up from 77 percent in 2008. But only about 6,000 immigrants succeeded in completing the entire process to be granted asylum, according to the notice.
The Homeland Security Department is also trying to loosen restrictions on incarcerating children. The proposed change in detention rules has drawn a legal challenge by immigration rights activists.
(Edvard Pettersson and Jennifer Epstein contributed to this report.)
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