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Trump administration takes step to tighten asylum system

Trump's midterm closing arguments
Trump increases immigration rhetoric ahead of midterms 14:03

The Trump administration is taking steps to tighten asylum rules for immigrants, something President Trump declared he would do last week ahead of Tuesday's midterms. Specifically, the administration is moving forward with a regulation that would withhold asylum protection from immigrants who cross the border illegally first. 

The interim final rule posted Thursday from the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security would bar immigrants who cross the "southern border unlawfully" from "eligibility for asylum." Immigrants would have to apply for asylum status at designated points of entry, and those already in the country illegally would not be able to apply. 

"The interim rule, if applied to a hypothetical proclamation suspending the entry of aliens who cross the border unlawfully, would bar them from eligibility for asylum, and thereby channel inadmissible aliens to ports of entry, where they would be processed in a controlled, orderly, and lawful manner," one senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon. 

The move represents Mr. Trump's latest immigration crackdown, as a caravan of migrants from Central America approaches the southern border. 

"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," DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement Thursday. "Today's rule applies this important principle to aliens who violate such a suspension or restriction regarding the southern border imposed by the president by invoking an express authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum. ... 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."

Mr. Trump's action would invoke emergency national security powers and may run into legal hurdles. Immigration rights advocates reacted swiftly to the proposed asylum changes Thursday.

"U.S. 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, director of the American Civil Liberties Rights Project, said. 

The president has declared immigrants are abusing America's generous asylum system, claiming the United States' asylum rules are the "biggest loophole drawing illegal aliens to our borders." 

"The biggest loophole drawing illegal aliens to our borders is the use of fraudulent or meritless asylum claims to gain entry into our great country," Mr. Trump said last week. "An alien simply crosses the border illegally, finds a border patrol agent, and using well-coached language by lawyers and others that stand there and try to get fees or whatever they can get. They're given a phrase to read. They've never heard the phrase before, they don't believe in the phrase, but they're given a little legal statement to read and they read it. And now all of a sudden their supposed to quality."

Mr. Trump has also threatened to end birthright citizenship through executive order, although he has yet to do so. Mr. Trump claims he can accomplish this through an executive order, rather than with a constitutional amendment through Congress — something many legal experts dispute.

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