WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Friday that asserts national security powers under new measures to deny asylum to migrants who enter the United States illegally outside of official ports of entry, prompting a legal challenge by civil rights groups.
Trump's proclamation authorized a 90-day suspension of the U.S. asylum process for any migrants who illegally cross the U.S. southern border, with a goal of channeling Central Americans in caravans traveling through Mexico into official U.S. ports of entry for a more orderly processing.
"I just signed the proclamation on asylum. Very important. People can come in but they have to come in through the ports of entry," Trump told reporters before boarding Marine One with the first lady to start a weekend trip to Paris to attend a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
The restrictions come a week after Trump announced he would send thousands of U.S. troops to the southern border and take executive action to end the “abuse” of the U.S. asylum system as he called caravans of asylum-seekers from Central America an "invasion" and a national threat.
"We're not letting them in, but they're trying to flood our country," Trump said Friday, and he urged Democrats to vote for new immigration laws and a border wall.
Trump also said he still intends to sign an executive order banning birthright citizenship, which was established by the 14th Amendment after the Civil War, though legal scholars have said he cannot do that without an act of Congress.
The proclamation issued Friday said the United Strates also will work with Mexico to deter the caravans and that after 90 days the attorney general and the secretaries of the State and Homeland Security departments will recommend whether to extend the ban.
"The continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border has precipitated a crisis and undermines the integrity of our borders," Trump's proclamation said. "I therefore must take immediate action to protect the national interest, and to maintain the effectiveness of the asylum system for legitimate asylum seekers who demonstrate that they have fled persecution and warrant the many special benefits associated with asylum."
Rule changes giving Trump the broad power to ban aslyum requests outside of official ports of entry were published Friday morning in the Federal Register.
A lawsuit charging the administration violated the Immigration and Nationality Act as well as the Administrative Procedures Act was filed by the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights in a San Francisco federal court.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Al Otro Lado, Innovation Law Lab and the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles.
“President Trump’s new asylum ban is illegal. Neither the president nor his cabinet secretaries can override the clear commands of U.S. law, but that’s exactly what they’re trying to do,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Ur Jaddou, director of the advocacy group DHS Watch, and former chief counsel of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, accused Trump of “unilaterally rewriting asylum law” passed by Congress decades ago.
“The pretext is a desperate group of Central American refugees hundreds of miles from the U.S. border which Trump has cruelly manufactured into a crisis for political reasons,” Jaddou said in a statement. “Regardless of Trump’s repeated claims, the facts remain that the number of unauthorized crossings at the border are still lower than in many years.”
And the American Immigration Lawyers Association said, "Not everyone is eligible for asylum, but everyone deserves to have their claim heard. The administration’s attempt to do an end run around that fundamental American value of due process is reprehensible. Forcing asylum seekers to apply at ports of entry means even more people will be turned away, something the Administration is already doing."
The Refugee Act of 1980 entitles migrants who reach American soil and state a fear of persecution in their home countries to a “credible fear” screening. A U.S. asylum officer determines whether to refer the claim to an immigration judge, who makes a final ruling.
Applicants are released into the United States with a usual wait of a year or more for a hearing before the courts, which have a backlog of more than 700,000.
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended the legality of the new rule and the presidential proclamation, which the senior administration officials said rely on the authorities Trump used in his travel ban in 2017.
“Consistent with our immigration laws, the president has the broad authority to suspend or restrict the entry of aliens into the United States if he determines it to be in the national interest to do so,” they said in a joint statement Thursday.
“Today, we are using the authority granted to us by Congress to bar aliens who violate a Presidential suspension of entry or other restriction from asylum eligibility,” they wrote.
The new rule only applies to future asylum-seekers, not to those who came before the issuance of the new measures, the statement by Whitaker and Nielsen said.
“Our asylum system is overwhelmed with too many meritless asylum claims from aliens who place a tremendous burden on our resources, preventing us from being able to expeditiously grant asylum to those who truly deserve it,” they said.