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Asylum-seekers wait in line to receive breakfast outside a temporary shelter on Nov. 24, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

'Racist' and 'Patently Unlawful': Trump Unveils New Rule to Block Asylum-Seekers at Southern Border

"We'll be challenging it in the courts and in the streets."

Jessica Corbett

Immigrant rights advocates vowed to challenge a new "racist" and "patently unlawful" policy from the Trump administration—set to take effect Tuesday—that aims to block many refugees from being eligible for asylum at the U.S. southern border.

"This is nothing short of deliberate cruelty."
—Charanya Krishnaswami, Amnesty International USA

The highly anticipated and widely decried interim final rule (pdf), slated to be published in the Federal Register Tuesday by the Justice and Homeland Security departments, states that most asylum-seekers—including unaccompanied children—who travel through another country before reaching the U.S.-Mexico land border won't be eligible for asylum in the United States.

The Associated Press reported Monday that "there are some exceptions, including for victims of human trafficking and asylum-seekers who were denied protection in a country. If the country the migrant passed through did not sign one of the major international treaties governing how refugees are managed (though most Western countries signed them) a migrant could still apply for U.S. asylum."

"This rule is an outrageous violation of our obligation to protect families and individuals seeking safety," Amnesty International USA advocacy director for the Americas Charanya Krishnaswami declared Monday.

"This is nothing short of deliberate cruelty. While the Trump administration argues that this policy upholds the integrity of the asylum system, it actually destroys the institution of asylum as we know it," said Krishnaswami. "Everyone seeking safety has the right to humane treatment and a fair asylum process, per international and domestic standards."

"The Trump administration is trying to unilaterally reverse our country's legal and moral commitment to protect those fleeing danger."
—Lee Gelernt, ACLU

U.S. Attorney General William Barr claimed in a statement announcing the policy that the country "is being completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens along the southern border" and the rule "will decrease forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States."

Legal advocates for asylum-seekers warn that the attempted rule change is just the Trump administration's latest illegal attack on migrants—particularly those coming to the United States from Central America—and would have sweeping implications for those pleading for refuge from violence and poverty. As ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt put it to the AP, "the rule, if upheld, would effectively eliminate asylum for those at the southern border."

"The Trump administration is trying to unilaterally reverse our country's legal and moral commitment to protect those fleeing danger," Gelernt added in a statement. "This new rule is patently unlawful and we will sue swiftly."

RAICES, a Texas-based legal services nonprofit for immigrants and refugees, charged in a series of tweets Monday that "this is ending asylum protections for all minorities."

"It's racist and wrong on every level... It's also blatantly illegal," said RAICES. "We'll be challenging it in the courts and in the streets."

RAICES and other critics connected the rule to President Donald Trump's recent racist attacks on progressive Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights tweeted Monday, "The president's agenda continues to be an immoral public expression of a white supremacist fantasy."

This is far from the Trump administration's first attempt to curb asylum protections. The so-called "Remain in Mexico" policy, enacted in January, forces asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications are processed. Last year, the administration attempted to "obliterate" protections for survivors of domestic and gang violence by declaring they would no longer automatically qualify for asylum. Those policies provoked court battles, just as the new rule is expected to do.

The unveiling of the new asylum rule follows a fresh round of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in major cities nationwide that kicked off over the weekend. Though the raids so far have not resulted in the mass arrests and deportations that Trump has threatened, they have had the effect of generating widespread fear. Edgar Barrera, a 59-year-old business manager who is in the country illegally, told the Los Angeles Times that "people are terrified to go out on the streets."

The rule and raids come as the Trump administration continues to face global criticism for holding migrants in inhumane conditions and detaining children. As Common Dreams previously reported, Ocasio-Cortez, who recently visited a detention facility in Texas, testified to a House committee on Friday that "this is a manufactured crisis, because the cruelty is manufactured. This is a manufactured crisis because there's no need for us to do this."

"Turning away asylum-seekers at the border is cruel, inhumane, and illegal," CREDO Action co-director Heidi Hess said in a statement Monday.

"This latest, racist stunt by Donald Trump to further close our doors to migrants is proof-positive that he is willing to abuse all powers afforded to the presidency in order to further his bigoted and hateful views," she said. "House Democrats must stand with immigrant families and communities of color attacked by Trump every day and put a stop to his rampant destruction of our country's values by opening an impeachment inquiry immediately."

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