The Department of Justice is drafting a plan to overall the granting of asylum to applicants who have been convicted of cross U.S. borders illegally. The plan would also impose further restrictions on asylum applicants from Central America to claim gang violence or domestic abuse when requesting asylum. DOJ has declined to comment.

Vox saw a copy of the plan, which a source said incorporates "the most severe restrictions on asylum since at least 1965" and "possibly even further back." The Immigration and Nationality Act was passed in 1965 and remains current. The changes would dovetail with a ruling Attorney General Jeff Sessions made earlier this month that imposes severe restrictions on Central Americans citing violence as a basis for seeking asylum in the United States. In a memo, Sessions wrote, "Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum." Sessions also told immigration judges this month that "asylum system is being abused."

The plan would deny asylum to those convicted of illegal entry or reentry between legal ports of entry, where asylum requests can be properly process. Changes to immigration regulations would be published in the Federal Register and provide the public with 90 days to comment before its final enactment.

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, the attorney general and the Department of Homeland Security have discretion over the standards set for asylum applications. The INA allows that the government “may grant asylum” to applicants who can be defined as refugees. Under the current “zero tolerance” policy, migrants who enter the U.S. between ports of entry and caught by the Border Patrol are supposed to face criminal prosecution. While an arrest can cause a delay in an asylum application, the application can still go forward. A conviction for illegal entry and an asylum application, according to Customs and Border Protection, are on parallel tracks. To avoid federal charges of illegal entry, asylum-seekers must enter the U.S. through designated ports of entry.

In an interview, Marguerite Telford of the Center for Immigration Studies told Spero News that human traffickers herd migrants -- from whom they may have extorted thousands of dollars, raped and assaulted -- to points along the U.S./Mexico border away from ports of entry. When agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrive to arrest and process the illegal border crossers, smugglers can then enter the country at other points with narcotics and other contraband while agents are otherwise distracted.

Currently, federal law permits asylum applications from persons facing persecution because of their race, religion, politics, nationality or membership in a particular social group. The report asserts that the proposed regulation would tighten up the definition of any “particular social group” facing persecution. Therefore, applicants would have to define that group, and eliminate some family units. 

In May, American and Mexican diplomats met to negotiate whether Mexico may serve as a “safe third country” for asylum cases. Under international law, asylum seekers and refugees are required to apply for safe haven in the first safe country they enter. So far, Mexico has been a transit country that offers transit visas to foreigners passing through the country. Migrants from Central America and other countries have frequently been the target of extortion, murder and other crimes as they seek to reach the U.S. 

Mexico has so far been considered a transit country, because it faces criminal threats similar to those in Central America and Central American migrants are often specifically targeted as they cross the country to get to the U.S. border. Mexico has been reluctant so far to accept a designation as a safe third country. But the new U.S. plan would make it easier for immigration judges to deny asylum to those persons who do not request asylum in Mexico first. The proposal would also mean that immigration judges would rule against asylum-seekers who cross more than one country in transit to the U.S.. This would bar migrants from El Salvador and Honduras, who must cross through Guatemala first and then Mexico to reach the U.S.

The proposal would call on judges to change they rule on applicants who have committed misdemeanors, other than illegal entry, committed in the United States. Asylum-seekers who have committed two or three misdemeanors would be barred. Also, judges would ignore pardons granted by state officials that have the intent of facilitating applicants' immigration claims.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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