Trump Administration Announces New Rule To Significantly Restrict Asylum Protection For Most Central American Migrants

Restrict Asylum Protection For Central American Migrants
Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

The Trump administration has taken various actions to restrict the inflow of immigrants from Central America at the U.S. southern border.  Many of these immigrants assert asylum claims to attempt to enter the United States. In probably its most forceful action to limit immigration from Central America, on July 15, the Trump administration announced a new rule to significantly restrict asylum protection for most Central American migrants.

Specifically, under the new rule (published in the Federal Register to be effective July 16), subject to 3 limited exceptions, asylum seekers who pass through another country first on their way to the United States generally will be ineligible for asylum at the U.S. southern border.  As most persons arriving at the U.S. southern border pass through Mexico, it will be literally impossible for them to now qualify for asylum. The new rule also applies to children who arrive at the U.S. southern border alone. The new rule would not apply to migrants who already entered the United States.    

The 3 limited exceptions under the new rule are if the migrant has been trafficked, if the country the migrant has passed through did not sign one of the major international treaties that govern how refugees are managed (unlikely to be applicable as most Western countries have signed them), or if the migrant sought asylum protection in another country but was denied.     

In announcing the new rule, Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan stated, “While the recent supplemental funding was absolutely vital to helping confront the crisis, the truth is that it will not be enough without targeted changes to the legal framework of our immigration system.  Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States and enable DHS and DOJ to more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border, leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey. 

Ultimately, today’s action will reduce the overwhelming burdens on our domestic system caused by asylum-seekers failing to seek urgent protection in the first available country, economic migrants lacking a legitimate fear of persecution, and the transnational criminal organizations, traffickers, and smugglers exploiting our system for profits”. 

Attorney General William Barr added, “This Rule is a lawful exercise of authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum. The United States is a generous country but is being completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens along the southern border. This Rule will decrease forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States – while ensuring that no one is removed from the United States who is more likely than not to be tortured or persecuted on account of a protected ground”.

As was expected, on July 16, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a Federal lawsuit in California challenging the new rule’s restrictions on asylum.  ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said, “This is the Trump administration’s most extreme run at an asylum ban yet. It clearly violates domestic and international law, and cannot stand”. Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project stated, “This administration’s relentless war on asylum seekers is nothing short of despicable.  Through policy after policy, the administration has manufactured the crisis at our southern border.

The new rule would only make this situation worse while jeopardizing the safety and security of countless migrants fleeing persecution”.

Baher Azmy, Center for Constitutional Rights legal director, added, “This is the latest – and deeply dangerous – effort by the Trump administration to inflict maximal cruelty on vulnerable people fleeing desperate conditions for safety here.  This rule also serves to project the administration’s rejection of the fundamental, international post-war consensus that human rights matter. They still do, and this suit seeks to vindicate their value”. Another Federal lawsuit was filed on July 16 against the new rule’s restrictions on asylum in the District of Columbia on behalf of the CAIR Coalition and RAICES.

The Trump administration’s new rule significantly restricting asylum presents a familiar situation regarding anti-immigration policies under the Trump administration – the Trump administration takes action, and litigation is filed against the anti-immigration policies.  In this environment, litigation is an essential bulwark to protect immigrant rights. Immigrants need attorneys, such as Kameli Law, which has won cases for immigrants for many years, to represent them in such litigation. If you need legal help on any immigration issue, please contact the Kameli Law, at or 312-233-1000, for assistance.

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