Trump administration moves to restrict asylum claims by migrants

A group of Central American migrants heading in a caravan to the US.
A group of Central American migrants heading in a caravan to the US.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Trump administration said it would prohibit people who illegally cross the US border with Mexico from claiming asylum, as the president seeks to choke off migration from Latin America.

The change to asylum procedures was published on Thursday by the Justice Department.

President Donald Trump has blamed US asylum rules for luring thousands of migrants a year from Central American countries. The new rule is almost certain to be challenged in courts.

"Our asylum system is overwhelmed with too many meritless asylum claims from aliens who place a tremendous burden on our resources, preventing us from being able to expeditiously grant asylum to those who truly deserve it," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Acting Attorney-General Matthew Whitaker said in a joint statement.

The new restrictions on asylum claims won't take effect until Trump issues a proclamation limiting or suspending entry into the US from Mexico, according to the rule. Trump plans to issue the proclamation on Friday, an administration official who asked not to be identified told reporters in a briefing.

Under the rule, migrants seeking asylum will have to make their claims at official ports of entry on the border. There, "they would be processed in a controlled, orderly, and lawful manner," according to the rule.

Immigrant advocacy groups have complained that under Trump, US border police have made it more difficult for people to cross into the country at ports of entry and have outright turned away some migrants.

Trump made immigration a key issue in Tuesday's election, stoking fear among his supporters about a migrant caravan that is still hundreds of miles away in Mexico.

Trump said last week that he planned to modify the asylum process to make it more difficult for Central American migrants in the caravan to request protection.

Administration officials argue the asylum system is abused by people who are not seeking security in the US but are instead searching for economic opportunity or trying to reunite with family members.