Donald Trump's proposal to ban asylum for certain undocumented immigrants has been attacked as "illegal" by human rights groups who say that asylum is a "lifeline" for those fleeing danger.
Under the new measures from the White House, undocumented immigrants arriving at the nation’s borders between ports of entry would no longer be able to legally apply for asylum. The move relies on emergency powers the president had previously invoked through the implementation of his “travel ban” involving people from several Muslim-majority nations last year.
Mr Trump's proclamation will effectively suspend the granting of asylum to migrants who cross the US border with Mexico illegally for up to 90 days, beginning on Saturday.
In a statement shortly after news broke of the policy shift, one of America's biggest civil rights groups, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said: “US law specifically allows individuals to apply for asylum whether or not they are at a port of entry.”
The group added, “It is illegal to circumvent that — by agency or presidential decree.”
By Friday afternoon, the ACLU had filed a lawsuit against the directive, likely paving the way for an exhaustive legal battle.
Mr Trump has railed against undocumented immigration along the US-Mexico border since the start of his presidential campaign - but it has intensified in recent weeks with a number of caravans containing thousands of refugees and migrants slowly heading to the border. many of those travelling in the caravans are fleeing violence in Central American nations including Honduras and El Salvador.
The president recently proposed a slate of hardline policies to deal with the issue, including revoking the nation’s amendment-protected practice of providing birthright citizenship. The president has also called for housing immigrants in “tent cities”
On Friday, the president told reporters he had signed the directive to revamp the asylum process, effectively barring undocumented immigrants who cross the border illegally from applying for asylum.
Current law provides a year for migrants who have illegally crossed the border to apply for asylum, however, under the new orders migrants are required to go directly to a port of entry along the border in order to apply.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday that everyone fleeing violence or persecution should get protection "without obstruction".
Many of the people on the move in Central America and Mexico today are fleeing “life-threatening violence or persecution” and require international protection, the UNHCR said in a statement issued in Geneva.
“UNHCR expects all countries, including the United States, to make sure any person in need of refugee protection and humanitarian assistance is able to receive both promptly and without obstruction in accordance with the 1967 refugee Protocol to which the United States is a party,” the agency said, referring to a protocol to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
It added that “long-standing insufficient reception capacity at official U.S. southern border ports of entry” was causing significant delays in northern Mexico, forcing many desperate asylum-seekers to turn to smugglers and cross the border irregularly.
“National security and dignified reception of refugees and asylum-seekers are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually reinforcing,” it said.
Human rights group Amnesty International also rejected the new measures and claimed it “needlessly places the lives of thousands of people in danger.”
“Asylum is not a loophole, it is a lifeline,” Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said.
The White House has defended the new measures, claiming the policy will make it safer for migrants who attempt to cross the geographically arduous border.
“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,” Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a joint statement Thursday.
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