DONALD TRUMP launched his presidential campaign four summers ago by raising fears of criminals, drug dealers and “rapists” entering America “from all over South and Latin America”. Since inauguration day, cracking down on immigration has been one of Mr Trump’s most zealous endeavours. In the past few weeks alone, the administration has barred asylum at the southern border for anyone travelling through Mexico from another country; denied green cards to immigrants who need financial support from the government; and, on August 21st, announced a plan that would allow authorities to hold families at detention centres indefinitely, rather than for a maximum of 20 days. These moves have all inspired—or are about to trigger—legal challenges.
The first change, announced on July 16th, barred foreign nationals from seeking asylum at America’s border with Mexico unless they had first applied for, and been denied, asylum in another country. Asylum was already a long-shot for people fleeing persecution or torture in their home countries: only some 20% of applicants have had their claims granted. But the change means that migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala—who make up by far the largest share of asylum applicants—will be stymied at America’s doorstep unless they can prove they have already pursued asylum elsewhere. That means migrants from Honduras must apply for asylum in Guatemala or Mexico and those from Guatemala must seek it in Mexico. Guatemala’s outgoing president, Jimmy Morales, signed on to such a “safe third country” deal with the Trump administration last month. But Alejandro Giammattei, the conservative president-elect, who will take office in January, has since made noises about altering or quitting the agreement. Mexico rejected the proposal outright.
The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the asylum crack-down in court, and on July 24th, Judge Jon Tigar, a federal district court judge in San Francisco, blocked the new rules nationwide. “Under our laws”, he wrote, “the right to determine whether a particular group of applicants is categorically barred from eligibility for asylum is conferred on Congress” and may not be accomplished by “executive fiat”. He also noted that asylum in Mexico was not “feasible” and found no “scintilla of evidence” that the system in Guatemala was an adequate alternative.
By S. M DES MOINES FOR THE ECONOMIST
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