Immigrants from Central America seeking asylum rest on cots at a makeshift shelter at a church April 2 in San Antonio. President Donald Trump is proposing changes that will complicate the efforts of those seeking asylum. | Eric Gay/AP Photo
The president’s memo includes orders to limit work authorizations, impose application fees and speed up court decisions.
Updated 04/30/2019 12:42 AM EDT
Tue Apr 30 00:42:14 EDT 2019
President Donald Trump is calling on top immigration officials to take steps that toughen and accelerate the process for seeking asylum in the United States.
In a memo issued Monday evening, Trump ordered the development of regulations to bar certain asylum seekers from obtaining work authorization, impose fees on applications, speed up court decisions and limit access to other forms of relief.Story Continued Below
The measures — framed as a response to a surge of migrants at the southwest border — would represent a further escalation of Trump’s hard-line immigration agenda. However, they will not immediately go into effect. Instead, the president called on the secretaries of the Homeland Security and Justice departments to “take all appropriate actions“ to implement the restrictive goals within 90 days.
Still, the prospective regulations called for in Monday’s memo — if and when they are issued — will almost certainly face court challenges.
The Trump administration has experimented with a range of policies to discourage the arrival of Central American families and children at the border, but without much discernible success. Federal courts have sidelined several high-profile initiatives, including an attempt late last year to block migrants who cross between ports of entry from seeking asylum.
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Meanwhile, the number of border arrests — a metric used to estimate crossings — have risen in recent months. In March, the U.S. Border Patrol arrested nearly 93,000 people at the border, a monthly tally on par with higher immigration levels of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.
Kirstjen Nielsen resigned as Homeland Security secretary earlier this month as border arrests skyrocketed. White House senior adviser Stephen Miller reportedly pressed for a broader DHS shake-up to forge ahead with more aggressive immigration efforts.
Now the task of carrying out Trump’s agenda is left to acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, who will testify before two separate congressional committees this week to defend the administration’s budget request for the coming year.
Trump regularly portrays immigrants arriving at the border as criminals and declared a national emergency in February to access roughly $6.7 billion for a border wall. The president said in the memo issued Monday that the latest measures would “strengthen asylum procedures to safeguard our system against rampant abuse.”
He followed up the memo with a post on Twitter about the dangers he sees at the border.
“The Coyotes and Drug Cartels are in total control of the Mexico side of the Southern Border,” he wrote. “They have labs nearby where they make drugs to sell into the U.S. Mexico, one of the most dangerous country’s in the world, must eradicate this problem now. Also, stop the MARCH to U.S.”
The push to toughen the asylum process followed news earlier in the day that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will send 320 more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help transport and care for migrants, bringing the total number of active-duty military personnel to just over 3,200.
The new deployment, at the request of DHS, is meant to free up Customs and Border Protection agents by ferrying migrants and “providing administrative support, including providing heating, meal distribution and monitoring the welfare of individuals in CBP custody,” Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
The Pentagon is also dispatching additional military lawyers to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“DoD personnel will not perform any law enforcement functions,” Davis stressed. “In any situation that requires DoD personnel to be in proximity to migrants, DHS law enforcement personnel will be present to conduct all custodial and law enforcement functions, and provide force protection of military personnel.”
In a separate move, ICE announced Monday that it would deploy more officers to the border to root out migrants fraudulently posing as family members.
The Trump administration’s controversial reliance on the active-duty military for the border mission began last fall, peaking just below 6,000 in December as Army soldiers and Marines installed barrier fencing. About half that many were extended through Sept. 30, 2019, when the new deployment will also expire.
Some 2,000 part-time National Guard troops have also been deployed to the Southwest since last spring.
The plans for additional troops were first revealed last week by The Washington Post, which reported that the troops would be granted waivers to come into contact with detained migrants — like members of the military who are already providing emergency medical care.
In the asylum memo issued Monday, Trump called for his administration to put out regulations that ensure asylum petitions before an immigration judge are resolved within 180 days, “absent exceptional circumstances.”
In addition, the president ordered federal officials to develop regulations that add a fee to asylum applications and bar immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally from receiving work authorization while their applications are pending.
The memo calls for the reassignment of federal personnel to “improve the integrity” of the credible-fear interview process, the first step in certain asylum claims.
The White House also calls for regulations that would place asylum seekers who pass a credible-fear interview or demonstrate a credible fear of torture into asylum-only proceedings. Such a change would keep them from seeking other forms of relief during the process.
Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, praised the prospective asylum measures in a written statement.
“Our asylum system is broken and human smugglers and criminals are profiting from its weaknesses and flaws,” he said. “President Trump is doing everything within his power to address the crisis.”
Anita Kumar contributed to this report.
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