Trump administration takes step to tighten asylum system

Members of one of the migrant caravans riding on a truck in Donaji Mexico last week

Immigration rights advocates reacted swiftly to the proposed asylum changes Thursday.

The move was spurred in part by caravans of Central American migrants slowly moving north on foot, but will apply to anyone caught crossing illegally, officials said.

According to the new rule: 'In recent years, the United States has seen a large increase in the number and proportion of inadmissible aliens subject to expedited removal who assert an intent to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution during that process and are subsequently placed into removal proceedings in immigration court'.

"Although the Trump administration expects to be enjoined and stopped in the near term", one of the officials told NBC, "they believe a policy based on the discretionary authority of the president over who is admitted to the USA will ultimately hold up in the Supreme Court". "It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree", said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, in a statement.

The rule, which prevents migrants from claiming asylum if they do not do so at an official border crossing, is the latest attempt by the White House to handle a surge in migration to the US from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

But the administration official argued that "what we're attempting to do is trying to funnel credible fear claims, or asylum claims, through the ports of entry where we are better resourced".

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That way, he said, courts will "handle those claims in an expeditious and efficient manner, so that those who do actually require an asylum protection get those protections".

The rule, as outlined by administration officials on a briefing call, is meant to crack down on people who jump the border illegally and then subsequently make asylum claims. It's unknown whether those in the caravan, many fleeing violence in their homeland, plan to cross illegally.

"Congress has directly spoken to this question as to whether individuals can be rendered ineligible for asylum if they cross between ports of entry and has specifically said people are eligible regardless of where they cross", said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Curbing immigration has been a signature issue for Trump, who pushed it hard in the days leading up to Tuesday's midterm elections, railing against the caravans that are still hundreds of miles from the border.

This is expected to put a dent in those streaming into an already overburdened system, officials said, noting that there is a backlog of more than 700,000 cases in the immigration courts. His administration also deployed thousands of troops to the border, and said he massive tent cities are being erected to house asylum seekers until there is a decision on their application. A report by the left-leaning Washington Office on Latin America suggested that "the number of unaccompanied children and family members admitted to the ports of entry, mainly for protection requests, plummeted by 42 percent from May to June".

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