Sending asylum seekers back to Mexico
President Trump placed dramatic new limits this week on Central Americans’ ability to seek asylum in the U.S., ordering immigration officials to deny all claims from petitioners who first passed through Mexico. The new directive would require asylum seekers to petition the first safe country they encounter after leaving their homeland. Immigration advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union called the rule illegal and immediately challenged it in a California court. Attorney General William Barr defended it as “a lawful exercise of authority,” though the order broke with decades of American policy and represents the administration’s most restrictive effort to stem the tide of Central American migrants flowing across the U.S.’s southern border. New federal data showed migrant arrests at the Mexican border fell in June to 104,344, a 28 percent drop from the 144,278 notched in May, the highest monthly total in 13 years. A Border Patrol official credited Trump’s deal last month with Mexico to intercept more migrants, although other experts blamed summer heat for the fall-off. Nearly a million migrants are expected to cross by year’s end, with many of them applying for asylum upon arrival.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began raids in 10 cities on 2,000 migrant families who’d flouted prior deportation notices. Trump hailed the heavily publicized operation as “very successful” and said that “many, many were taken out,” although activists noted little evidence of the massive dragnet they’d feared. Meanwhile, thousands of people protested at ICE facilities across the country, and a 69-year-old man armed with a rifle and Molotov cocktails was shot dead by authorities after he attacked a detention facility in Washington state.
What the editorials said
Trump’s asylum order closes an important loophole in the system, said the Washington Examiner. Right now, migrants know they need only “touch American soil, find a Border Patrol agent, and turn themselves in, requesting asylum,” before they are let loose in the U.S. with a court date scheduled years in the future. Migrants have learned how to “push the system’s buttons” to turn a generous asylum law into “an invitation to unlimited economic migration.”
Trump’s “policy shift is as cruel as it is impractical,” said the San Francisco Chronicle. Since World War II, America has gradually expanded protections for immigrants seeking asylum here in “acknowledgment of its failure to take in Jewish refugees fleeing Europe.” Now Trump has betrayed that commitment and capriciously told thousands of migrants who endured the journey here that they must first apply in Guatemala and Mexico. This will only aggravate a humanitarian crisis that is already “a stain on this nation’s expressed values.”
What the columnists said
Trump’s order is almost certainly illegal, said Peter Margulies in LawfareBlog.com. The Immigration and Nationality Act blocks the federal government from forcing migrants to apply for asylum in a third country unless the U.S. has entered into a special “safe third country agreement” with that nation. “Reaching a safe third country agreement with either Mexico or Guatemala”—a deal the U.S. now has only with Canada—“would be a game changer under U.S. immigration law,” but so far there is no sign that either of those countries is willing to assume the burden. Short of that, the rule is probably doomed.
What’s doomed is our current asylum process, said Dan Stein in FoxNews.com. Since Democrats won’t address the crisis at our southern border, President Trump made a “common-sense” decision that will protect legitimate asylum claims. Baseless claims have overwhelmed our system to such a degree that those truly fleeing “imminent danger in their homelands” must wait years to be resettled. Trump’s rule will weed out migrants who game the asylum system at the expense of those who really need it.
This rule won’t survive the courts, said Ed Kilgore in NYMag.com. But it really doesn’t matter to Trump, since his real motive is to constantly remind migrants headed here and those already inside America that they aren’t wanted. It also keeps Trump’s “hard-core nativist base revved up to a high pitch of intense fury over the ‘invasion’ of America by swarthy hordes of criminals and freeloaders.” While that might make good short-term politics, the cost of this “big-con approach to problem-solving” will eventually come due. ■