Trump claims ‘crisis,’ issues asylum edict
‘Mass migration’ a threat, he says; ACLU files lawsuit
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump proclaimed Friday that the illegal entry of people across the southern border of the United States was detrimental to the national interest, triggering changes that will deny asylum to all migrants who do not enter through official border crossings.
The proclamation, issued just moments before Trump left the White House for a weekend trip to Paris, suspends asylum rights for people who try to cross into the United States illegally, though officials said it was aimed primarily at several thousand migrants traveling north through Mexico in caravans.
“The continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border has precipitated a crisis and undermines the integrity of our borders,” Trump wrote in the proclamation.
As he left the White House for the overseas trip, Trump said, “We want people to come into our country, but they have to come into the country legally.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Friday within hours of the president’s proclamation, urging a federal judge to prohibit Trump from moving ahead with his plans to deny asylum to thousands who may cross the border.
In a legal filing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the ACLU said the president’s move was “in direct violation of Congress’ clear command that manner of entry cannot constitute a categorical asylum bar.” The lawsuit also alleges that the administration enacted the rule “without the required procedural steps and without good cause for immediately putting the rule into effect.”
The lawsuit could set in motion another clash between Trump and the judicial system over the power of the presidency to control the nation’s borders. Officials at the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to questions about the lawsuit.
Administration officials said Friday that the suspension of asylum rights would be in effect for at least 90 days, but could end sooner if Mexico’s government would sign an agreement allowing the United States to return those who
illegally cross the border from Mexico, regardless of their home country — a proposal that Mexico has long rejected.
For decades, immigration law in the United States has required that officials allow people who fear persecution in their home countries to seek asylum regardless of whether they entered the United States legally or crossed illegally.
Trump’s proclamation is a radical departure from that tradition. With the exception of children arriving without parents, officials said, everyone crossing illegally would automatically be denied asylum. Advocates for migrants condemned the policy shift as mean-spirited and unconstitutional.
“Issuing a presidential proclamation effectively denying vulnerable families protection from violence is contrary to our laws and values,” said Kevin Appleby, a senior director at the Center for Migration Studies. “In the long run, it will not deter asylum seekers who are fleeing for their lives. On this one, the emperor has no clothes.”
Officials said the asylum-law changes are meant to funnel migrants through official border crossings for speedy rulings instead of having them try to circumvent such crossings on the nearly 2,000-mile border. The U.S. Border Patrol says it apprehended more than 50,000 people crossing illegally in October, setting a new high this year, though illegal crossings are well below historical highs from previous decades.
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.
Border crossers are generally arrested and often seek asylum or some other form of protection. Claims have spiked in recent years and the immigration court backlog has more than doubled to 1.1 million cases in about two years, Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reported this week. Generally, only about 20 percent of applicants are approved.
Across the world, nations have for years agreed to consider asylum protections for those fleeing violence and persecution, even if they cross borders illegally. Human-rights advocates said Friday that the United States should be a leader in supporting that idea.
“One thing that unites a majority of Americans is a belief in the principle of asylum,” Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement. “Eroding that principle means eroding a defining value of our nation.”
Administration officials have conceded that many of the crossings from Mexico into the United States — known
as ports of entry — were over capacity and already had trouble processing the number of asylum claims being made there. Under the new policy, many more are expected to arrive at the crossings.
In the proclamation, Trump acknowledged the problem and directed his administration “to commit additional resources to support our ports of entry at the southern border to assist in processing those aliens.”
Trump’s proclamation drew on the same powers to control the nation’s borders that he cited when he banned travelers from several predominantly Muslim nations shortly after becoming president. The Supreme Court upheld a later version of that ban after a nearly year-and-a-half legal fight.
The new proclamation is expected to spark a similar legal battle.
SUBWAY, THEN A HIKE
Meanwhile, about 900 Central Americans headed out of Mexico City on Friday to embark on the longest and most dangerous leg of their journey to the U.S. border, while thousands more were waiting one more day at an improvised shelter.
The travelers who got a head start bundled their few possessions and started off, taking a subway to the northern part of the city and then hiking down an expressway with a police escort.
For many, it was the first time they had ever been in a metro system, and they had little knowledge of the city or
the 1,740-mile route to Tijuana that lay ahead of them.
Carlos Castanaza, a 29-year-old plumber from Guatemala City, wrapped himself from head to toe in a blanket against the cold and asked bystanders where the first toll booth was. When told it was in a town about 20 miles away, he carefully wrote the name of the town on his hand with a pen to remember where he was going.
Deported for driving without a license after a decade working in Connecticut, Castanaza was desperate to get back to his two U.S.-born children. “I’ve been wanting to get back for more than a year, but I couldn’t until the caravan came through,” said Castanaza. “That’s why I joined the caravan.”
The advance group hoped to reach the north-central city of Queretaro, about 105 miles to the northwest, by nightfall.
The group of at least 4,000 migrants that stayed behind milled around the shelter improvised at a Mexico City sports complex, impatient to leave.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” shouted Eddy Rivera, 37, a rail-thin migrant from Honduras who said he couldn’t take staying in the camp any longer. “We are all sick, from the humidity and the cold,” said Rivera, who left behind four children and a wife in Honduras. “We have to get going, we have to get to Tijuana.”
Though he was unsure how an unskilled farmworker like himself would be allowed in the United States, he had a simple dream: earn enough money to build a little house for his family back in Puerto Cortes, Honduras.
Thousands of travelers have spent the past few days resting, receiving medical attention and debating how to proceed with their arduous trek through Central America and Mexico, which began in mid-October. On Thursday, caravan representatives met with officials from the local United Nations office and demanded buses to take them to the border, saying the trek would be too hard and dangerous for walking and hitchhiking.
Caravan coordinator Milton Benitez said officials had offered them buses for women and children but organizers demanded that they be for everyone. By Friday, the migrants said they were so angry at the U.N.’s lack of help that they no longer wanted U.N. observers with the caravan.
The United Nations on Friday denied the offer, releasing a statement saying its agencies “are unable to provide the transportation demanded by some members of the caravan.”
Similar caravans have gathered regularly over the years and have generally dwindled by the time they reach the southern border, particularly to Tijuana. Most have passed largely unnoticed.
“We want people to come into our country, but they have to come into the country legally,” President Donald Trump said Friday as he left the White House for Paris.