The Trump administration moved today to drastically change the country’s asylum rules, effectively ending the possibility for many Central American migrants or refugees to apply for asylum and fundamentally breaking the system as we know it.
The new rules are both simple and incredibly destructive: Under the proposed change, which is expected to go into affect on Tuesday, any migrant who passes through another country before arriving at the southern border will be ineligible for asylum in U.S. Per the Associated Press, there are some exceptions, but none that will provide much comfort for the tens of thousands of desperate people seeking refuge:
If someone has been trafficked, if the country the migrant passed through did not sign one of the major international treaties that govern how refugees are managed (though most Western countries have signed them) or if an asylum-seeker sought protection in a country but was denied, then a migrant could still apply for U.S. asylum.
Let’s think about what this means. If you cannot pass through another country on your way to the U.S., that means the only options for declaring asylum would be if you’re coming from Mexico or Canada or take a direct flight from your country of origin to the U.S., then ask for asylum. Neither of these are options for the vast majority of asylum seekers currently entering the country, which is quite obviously by design. It’s also worth noting that this rule change would severely hinder asylum seekers from many other countries as well, as it’s extremely difficult for many people fleeing their home country to travel directly to their destination.
The good news is, like many of the Trump administration’s sweeping, destructive attacks on the asylum system, the new policy will almost certainly face immediate legal challenges. The administration has previously proposed making ports of entry the only legal places to declare asylum, denying asylum seekers bail, and holding asylum seekers in Mexico, all of which are the subject of protracted legal battles.
According to the AP, the policy is, unsurprisingly, also completely out of touch with current U.S. law and the spirit of the asylum system:
U.S. law allows refugees to request asylum when they arrive at the U.S. regardless of how they did so, but there is an exception for those who have come through a country considered to be “safe.” But the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs asylum law, is vague on how a country is determined “safe”; it says “pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement.”
Right now, the U.S. has such an agreement, known as a “safe third country,” only with Canada. Under a recent agreement with Mexico, Central American countries were considering a regional compact on the issue, but nothing has been decided.
While this rule change is likely to be tied up in the courts for months, conditions at the border remain desperate, for immigrants, asylum seekers, and anyone else detained by the Trump administrations openly racist, presidentially supported border security forces.