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Trump administration to impose new restrictions on who qualifies for asylum

U.S. deporting asylum-seekers to Guatemala
U.S. deporting asylum-seekers to Guatemala 05:03

Washington — The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed a new set of restrictions to the nation's asylum system, unveiling a proposal to significantly expand the crimes that render migrants ineligible for asylum in the U.S. to include convictions of using false documents and crossing the border illegally more than once.

The proposed rule by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, which oversees the nation's immigration courts, would also disqualify foreign nationals who have been convicted of possession of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia, driving under the influence, unlawful use of public benefits, a crime related to gang activity or any felony.

Convictions related to domestic violence would also make individuals ineligible for asylum. But those found "to have engaged in acts of battery or extreme cruelty in a domestic context" would also be disqualified even if they were not convicted, according to the proposal.

Under current policy, only those who have committed "particularly serious crimes," persecuted others, engaged in terrorist activity or pose a national security threat are barred from requesting asylum.

If enacted, the rule would erect even more regulatory barriers for migrants seeking asylum, a congressionally-authorized humanitarian protection that the administration has already dramatically limited access to.

The cornerstone of the administration's efforts to deter U.S.-bound migrants and asylum-seekers has been the so-called "Remain in Mexico" program. Under the policy, more than 55,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to northern Mexico by the U.S. and are required to wait there for the duration of their immigration court proceedings, often in squalid and dangerous shelters and encampments.

Officials have been implementing a sweeping rule allowed by the Supreme Court that disqualifies most non-Mexican migrants from claiming asylum once they reach the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration has also rolled out proposals to impose the first-ever charge for affirmative asylum applications, as well as a rule to deny work authorization to most asylum-seekers.

Another rule announced last year that would block those who cross the border in between ports of entry from being able to request asylum has been blocked by the courts.

The proposed rule revealed Wednesday is slated to be published in the official journal of the U.S. government Thursday. It will then be subject to a 30-day window in which the public can file comments on it before a final rule is published and implemented.

Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, said the proposal would probably not have a "huge impact" on the number of people of seeking asylum, noting that many asylum-seekers have not had the opportunity to be in the U.S. long enough or at all to come in contact with the criminal justice system.

But Pierce said the proposed rule still represented a "significant and notable expansion" of the crimes that would block migrants from being eligible for asylum. The shift, she added, is likely designed to restrict the highest number of people possible.

"If you look at the ICE data on arrests, DUI is one of the most common crimes that immigrants are getting caught up in. And DUIs are on this list," Pierce said. "Illegal re-entry is a really common issue and that's on this list."

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