On Tuesday, July 16, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice jointly issued an interim federal rule (IFR) aimed at reducing the number of individuals seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border.
Under the new immigration policy, those seeking asylum who first pass through a third country before entering the United States must initially apply for refugee status in that country as opposed to the United States.
Between the years 2013 and 2018, the number of asylum cases encountered by the Department of Homeland Security and then referred to the Department of Justice for legal proceedings has tripled. The new asylum policy seeks to mitigate the strain on the nation’s immigration system and border patrol personnel by reducing the number of meritless asylum claims.
As defined in existing federal statute and outlined by the Department of Homeland Security, asylum is to be offered to “those fleeing persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan said of the new policy, “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.”
The institution of this new rule acts in accordance with previously instituted immigration policies, like the Migrant Protection Protocols issued in January 2019.
Under this policy, those seeking admission to the US from Mexico can be lawfully required to return to Mexico during the course of their immigration procedures, as opposed to remaining in the US throughout the course of their legal proceedings.
Currently, immigrants seeking to enter the US are permitted to apply for asylum with exceptions for those individuals who first traveled through “safe third countries,” as designated by a bilateral or multilateral agreement.
At present, Canada is the only country classified as a “safe third country.”
While Mexican officials agreed to discussions about a “safe third country” agreement in June, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard issued a statement on Monday stating Mexico’s intention to maintain its current policies and the country’s disagreement with measures that “limit access to asylum and refugee status to those who fear for their life or safety in their country of origin due to persecution.”
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales was scheduled to discuss a “safe third country” agreement with President Trump on Monday, July 15, but unexpectedly canceled after Guatemala’s Constitutional Court prohibited him from negotiations about whether or not Guatemala is to be deemed a “safe third country.”
Other exceptions to the new policy apply to immigrants who were denied protection from persecution or torture in at least one other transit country en route to the US, human trafficking victims, and those passing through countries that are not parties to three designated international asylum treaties.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the intention of the new policy is to more effectively identify individuals misusing the asylum system to enter and remain in the US, as opposed to possessing an urgent need for protection from persecution or torture.
The move comes as border apprehension numbers continue to surpass six figures per month and tensions continue to rise between political parties over holding facility conditions, border security, and accusations of Border Patrol misconduct.
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.