Here Comes the Test of Asylum

Terry H. Schwadron

Nov. 15, 2018

There will be a big tendency to suggest that President Trump’s announcement that he will deny asylum requests by anyone entering the country by its Southern border “illegally” reflects meanness or bias towards Mexicans and Central Americans fleeing their homes.

The announcement takes on specific meaning now that forward portions of the caravan are actually reaching the U.S. border. In the next days, refugees will enter the legal port of entry, or at least line up to do so, to request asylum.

With the midterm elections now past, the president’s public remarks have waned about immigration, yet 6,000 U.S. military troops remain on the border, waiting for non-engagement, since it is banned, hundreds of children and migrant parents remain separated, yet the president’s pre-election policy announcements, as with the asylum limit, remain pending.

To me, President Trump’s announcement is really as much a reflection of an ego-driven leader who believes that his opinions, his gut, outweighs the force of law and national treaties that allow for the legality of asylum.

The president’s proclamation said that the illegal entry of immigrants across the southern border of the United States is detrimental to the national interest, and triggered changes that will deny asylum to all migrants who do not enter through official border crossings.The executive order suspends asylum rights for all immigrants who attempt to cross into the United States illegally, though officials said it was aimed primarily at several thousand migrants traveling north through Mexico in caravans.

A court challenge is certain, and defining much about this 90-day order may be moot because, as with the Travel Ban announced shortly after Trump’s inauguration, judges will have a lot to say about its implementation.

As explained, immigration law for decades has required that officials allow migrants who fear persecution in their home countries to seek asylumregardless of whether they entered the United States legally or crossed illegally or whether they checked in at formally designated checkpoints.

The proclamation differs, saying that with the exception of children arriving without parents, all migrants who cross illegally would automatically be denied asylum.

Those crossings from Mexico into the United States are always over capacity and have trouble processing the number of asylum claims being made by migrants there. Under the new policy, many more are expected to arrive at the crossings.

Officials said migrants would be allowed to seek other protections if they could prove a risk of being tortured in their home countries. Those claims are purposely much harder to prove. The only way to seek asylum will be to arrive at an official border crossing.

Trump directed his administration “to commit additional resources to support our ports of entry at the southern border to assist in processing those aliens.”

Trump said he was using the same area of law as was approved for use in the Travel Ban to invoke the special powers to overrule regulations governing asylum. The new rules give Trump vast authority to deny asylum to virtually any migrant who crosses the border illegally, just the type of extension of presidential power that has prompted serious debate in Congress.

Lawyers for immigration advocacy organizations and the United Nations said they violated a founding principle of international treaties and federal asylum — to judge each person’s asylum claim on its own merits. Lawyers said federal and international law made it clear that the United States must provide immigrants the opportunity to claim asylum regardless of whether they entered the country legally or illegally.

In the meantime, the president has sent several thousand active military to the border to support the effort to block migrants. Trump has fumed at his advisers for months about the surge of immigrants crossing into the United States from Mexico. Asylum claims have increased fourfold since 2014, compounding a backlog of more than 750,000 cases in U.S. immigration courts.

It has been widely reported that Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielson will be leaving her job shortly over such disagreements with the president.

The order took effect over the weekend.

The caravan if migrants, mostly from Honduras, is still hundreds of miles away in S0uthern Mexico, and moving mostly on foot. There are still about 4,000 migrants in the group, who say that they are moving together for safety purposes, but must flee from gangs and hunger in their own country.

Trump insisted on the campaign trail, without evidence, that the caravan also includes hundreds of gang members, smugglers, people “of Mideastern origin,” and others who will cross the border illegally, repeat taught legal phrases about asylum, and enter the country illegally to become eligible for health care, food stamps and public support by U.S. taxpayers.

In exit polls and interviews, Trump voters said repeatedly that they believed the president, and listed the “invasion” of migrants as a top campaign issue.

So, it is a mean policy and it is an unhealthy expansion of presidential power. Want to vote about it?


Journalist, musician, community volunteer