The Trump administration just moved to restrict its asylum system as migrant caravans head toward the US

  • The Trump administration on Thursday took its first steps toward restricting asylum to immigrants who cross the border into the United States illegally.
  • The changes are coming as multiple caravans of thousands of Central American migrants make their way to the US through Mexico.
  • Many of them have said they intend to request asylum.
  • Immigration and civil liberties advocates have repeatedly said that the Trump administration’s efforts will contravene domestic and international law, which allow migrants to seek asylum no matter how they enter.

The Trump administration on Thursday made its first move toward barring asylum to immigrants who cross the border illegally, as President Donald Trump has been promising for weeks ahead of a slow-moving caravan of Central American migrants travelling to the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday released documents outlining the new restrictions, which are set to be published to the Federal Register on Friday morning. The documents say that the changes won’t take effect until Trump issues a proclamation. “Consistent with our immigration laws, the President has the broad authority to suspend or restrict the entry of aliens into the United States if he determines it to be in the national interest to do so,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in a joint statement announcing the changes.

They added: “Today, we are using the authority granted to us by Congress to bar aliens who violate a Presidential suspension of entry or other restriction from asylum eligibility.”

The changes come as multiple caravans of thousands of migrants remain in Mexico, grappling over what route to take to the US-Mexico border. Many of the caravan members have said they intend to seek asylum in the US, though it’s unclear whether they plan to request it after crossing the border illegally or after reaching a legal port of entry.

Immigration and civil liberties advocates have repeatedly said the Trump administration’s efforts will contravene domestic and international law, which allow migrants to seek asylum no matter how they enter.

“US law specifically allows individuals to apply for asylum whether or not they are at a port of entry. It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree,” Omar Jadwat of the American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday in a statement.

Read more: Trump rages against migrant caravans in long, bizarre press conference, vows to bar asylum claims from people who cross the border illegally

In a briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon, senior administration officials said the changes were an attempt to “funnel” credible asylum claims through the ports of entry, where border officials would be better equipped to handle the volume.

The senior administration officials also called the current asylum system – which is currently backlogged with roughly 800,000 cases – a “full-fledged and very large crisis.”

They argued that the changes would reduce the amount of illegitimate asylum claims, paving the way for legitimate asylum-seekers to get a fair hearing.

“It’s important just to remind people that those who enter between the ports of entry are knowingly and voluntarily breaking the law. It’s a federal crime. People can and do go to jail for that every single day,” one official said. “While immigration laws do afford people various forms of protection, the reality is that it’s a violation of federal law in the manner that these illegal aliens are entering the country.”

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