The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled tough new rules on asylum seekers who break border laws, in President Donald Trump's latest hard-line move on immigration policy.
The new rule, announced by the Justice Department and Homeland Security, declares that immigrants who illegally cross the border will be stripped of their eligibility to receive asylum in the U.S. The rule is prospective, meaning it does not cover anyone who has entered in the past, senior administration officials said.
The new restrictions won't take effect until Trump applies them in a presidential proclamation, which could possibly be issued Friday, a senior administration official said.
The action is one of the first taken by Matthew Whitaker in his newly appointed role as acting attorney general. Whitaker, who was Attorney General Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, got the promotion after Trump fired Sessions a day earlier.
Whitaker, in a joint statement with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, said "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. 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."
Earlier Thursday, NBC News reported that the administration expects to be sued over the new immigration policy. But two senior administration officials told the outlet that they expected the U.S. Supreme Court, emboldened by a 5-4 conservative majority, to ultimately uphold the plan.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the most recent addition to the high court and Trump's second pick, is expected to side with the four other conservative justices and defer to the president's executive authority, the officials told NBC.
The harsher asylum measures come two days after the midterm elections, where Trump made immigration the keystone issue of his appeal for voters to elect Republicans. The GOP lost its majority control of the House to the Democrats in the midterms but gained seats in the Senate, which it already controlled.
At rallies, on social media and from the White House, Trump zeroed in on caravans of Central American migrants traveling toward the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum, claiming they were an "invasion" of the country. Trump said he was willing to send as many as 15,000 troops to defend the border, even though the caravans remained hundreds of miles away from the U.S. come Election Day.
The rule announced Thursday is not the first time the Trump administration has sidestepped Congress to unilaterally shift the nation's immigration policy.
In his first days in office, Trump signed an executive order limiting travel to the U.S. from a number of majority Muslim countries. The travel ban was stalled in court for months, but the Supreme Court ultimately upheld a version of the ban in a landmark ruling earlier this year that fell along partisan lines.
Over the summer, Sessions implemented his "zero tolerance" policy toward illegal border crossings. The spike in prosecutions also led to the mass separation of families, which set off a wave of bipartisan criticism resulting in Trump effectively nullifying the policy by executive order in June.
The president has also used his executive power to hamstring the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, an Obama-era program that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived as young children to remain in the country and obtain work permits.
The president's termination of DACA has been blocked by courts in Washington and New York. On Thursday, a federal appeals court weighed in, largely echoing previous court rulings and upholding a nationwide ban on the president's order. That ruling makes it virtually certain that the fate of DACA will be decided by the Supreme Court in the coming months.
Read the full release below. The interim final rule can be found here.
WASHINGTON—Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen today announced an Interim Final Rule declaring that those aliens who contravene a presidential suspension or limitation on entry into the United States through the southern border with Mexico issued under section 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) will be rendered ineligible for asylum.
The Acting Attorney General and the Secretary issued the following joint statement:
"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. 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. 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. 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."
Section 212(f) of the Immigration and INA states that "[w]henever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate."
Further, Section 215(a) of the INA states that it is "unlawful…for any alien to depart from or enter or attempt to depart from or enter the United States except under such reasonable rules, regulations, and orders, and subject to such limitations and exceptions as the President may prescribe."
In Section 208(d)(5)(B) of the INA, Congress specified that the Attorney General "may provide by regulation for any other conditions or limitations on the consideration of an application for asylum."
Today's new rule applies to prospective presidential proclamations, and is not retroactive.
Asylum is a discretionary form of relief granted by the Executive Branch on a discretionary basis to those fleeing persecution on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The rule does not render such aliens ineligible for withholding of removal under the INA or protection from removal under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.