The Trump administration will force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their claim is processed, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Under the new “Remain in Mexico” policy, only Central American migrants who can persuade U.S. immigration officials they have a “reasonable fear” of persecution in Mexico will be allowed to cross the border into the United States.
Those who fail to establish this will be denied entry while their asylum claims are processed, according to Department of Homeland Security officials and government planning documents — a process which takes an average of six months.
The newspaper reported that the policy could take effect as soon as Friday, and that teams of asylum officers were being sent to ports of entry to implement the changes.
DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said in statement the department was not implementing a new enforcement program this week, but that “every single legal option is on the table to secure our nation.”
The move could imperil asylum seekers, as Mexican border cities have high rates of violence, and Mexican law does not allow people seeking asylum in third countries to stay.
The planned changes would be a major departure from the current system, whereby asylum seekers are permitted to remain in the U.S. until their cases are heard by a judge. Donald Trump, who on Thursday reiterated his threats to close the border with Mexico and said he'd authorized U.S. troops there to use lethal force against the migrants if necessary, has repeatedly railed against the status quo, which he refers to as “catch and release.”
Trump tweeted Wednesday about the growing migrant caravan from Central America seeking to gain asylum in the U.S., calling instead for a “catch and detain” approach. He also repeated his attack on a judge who blocked another of his immigration policies Monday.
“There are a lot of CRIMINALS in the Caravan. We will stop them. Catch and Detain!” he tweeted. “Judicial Activism, by people who know nothing about security and the safety of our citizens, is putting our country in great danger. Not good!”
Trump’s anger stems from a decision by a Ninth Circuit judge Monday night to issue a temporary restraining order against a new policy barring migrants from seeking asylum if they enter the country illegally.
“Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar wrote in his decision, which blocks the government from implementing the rules until a court case proceeds next month.
Trump responded Tuesday by calling the Ninth Circuit “a disgrace” and dismissing Tigar as an “Obama judge,” prompting a rare rebuke from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement Wednesday. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
Trump shot back via Twitter Wednesday: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.”
Trump took another swipe Thursday, accusing Tigar of imperilling national security by blocking his policy.
“Justice Roberts can say what he wants, but the 9th Circuit is a complete & total disaster. It is out of control, has a horrible reputation, is overturned more than any Circuit in the Country, 79%, & is used to get an almost guaranteed result.”
He then reiterated a threat to close the border — and said he had authorized U.S. troops to use lethal force if necessary against the migrants.
"If they have to, they're going to use lethal force. I've given the OK," Trump told reporters at Mar-a-Lago.
"I hope they don't have to," he said, but claimed he had "no choice" but to make the authorization. "You're dealing with a minimum of 500 serious criminals."
According to Department of Homeland Security figures, the number of asylum applications in the U.S. has soared in recent years, from 5,000 in 2008 to 97,000 in 2018. The rise has mostly come from asylum seekers fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central American countries.
Trump has made stopping the immigrant “invasion,” which he considers a national security issue, a key focus of his presidency. He was heavily criticized for drumming up unfounded fears over the approaching migrant caravan ahead of the midterms, sending a huge troop deployment to the border and claiming "unknown Middle Easterners" were in their midst. He later acknowledged there was “no proof” of that.
Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks about the "First Step Act" in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, U.S. November 14, 2018. (REUTERS/Leah Millis)