President Donald Trump's administration moved Monday to dramatically limit the ability of Central Americans migrants to claim asylum if they enter the U.S. through Mexico.
The move is the latest effort by the White House to limit the number of migrants flooding over the southern border and seeking asylum amid overcrowded and harrowing conditions at migrant detention centers.
The rule from the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice says that asylum-seekers who pass through another country and do not seek asylum there would be ineligible for protection when they reach the border.
The new rule suggests that migrants coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador cannot seek asylum if they did not first do so in Mexico. It would also apply to many other asylum seekers who attempt to enter the U.S. from other countries.
"Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major 'pull' factor driving irregular migration to the United States," acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a statement, adding that the rule would allow the departments to "more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border, leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey."
McAleenan said the $4.5 billion border funding bill passed last month to help the agencies responding to the surge of migrants at the border was insufficient on its own and the interim rule would "reduce overwhelming burdens" on the immigration system in the meantime.
Attorney General William Barr called the rule a "lawful exercise of authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum."
"The United States is a generous country but is being completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens along the southern border," Barr said in a statement. "This rule will decrease forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States — while ensuring that no one is removed from the United States who is more likely than not to be tortured or persecuted on account of a protected ground."
The new rule includes three exceptions. It excludes migrants who have been denied asylum in the countries they traveled through, migrants who demonstrated they satisfy the definition of a "victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons" or came to the U.S. through a country that were not parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol or the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The rule is set to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday and is expected to take effect immediately.
It is likely to face legal challenges from immigrant rights and civil liberties group. In the past, federal judges have blocked other attempts by the administration to change the asylum policy, including the president's attempt to deny protection to migrants who did not enter the country through a legal point of entry.
The American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday that it would "sue swiftly" to block the rule.
"The Trump administration is trying to unilaterally reverse our country's legal and moral commitment to protect those fleeing danger," Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement. "This new rule is patently unlawful, and we will sue swiftly."
Monday's announcement comes after the Trump administration warned that immigration raids would begun Sunday across the country to round up thousands of undocumented immigrants facing deportation. The ACLU filed a preemptive lawsuit last week against the Trump administration in the wake of reports about the raids. Immigration rights advocates said there is little evidence to suggest that the raids materialized over the weekend.
It also comes after Vice President Mike Pence and several Republican senators visited detention facilities last week. Democrats who have visited the facilities run by U.S. Border Patrol and Protection (CBP) have expressed outrage at the filthy conditions at the facilities.
Pence called the conditions "tough stuff," but said, "I was not surprised by what I saw. I knew we'd see a system that was overwhelmed."
Speaking with CNN after his tour of the facility, Pence blamed Congress for the poor conditions at detention centers. He argued that lawmakers have not given the White House enough funding to provide migrants with insufficient resources.
"The customs and border security are doing their level best in an overcrowded environment and in a difficult environment to address this issue," he said. "Congress has got to act to make it possible for us to reduce the numbers of people coming into our country illegally."
You can watch Pence's appearance on CNN below: