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Trump White House memos outline tough guidelines on deportation

New draft memos obtained by news outlets reveal the US government's plans to raise the bar for asylum seekers. President Donald Trump has promised a crackdown on illegal immigration as part of his platform.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly is considering signficantly expanding guidelines for people wanting to enter the US, according to a pair of draft memos leaked to various news organizations over the weekend.

The memos, which were sent to officials at the Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, outline plans to beef up the hiring of enforcement agents, lift exemptions on certain groups of people from deportation and significantly raise the bar for criteria determining who can be granted asylum. The release comes amid growing concerns over the new administration's immigration policies. 

US-Präsdient Donald Trump ohne Krawatte in Melbourne (Pictue-Alliance/dpa/S. Walsh)

On the campaign trail, Trump said cracking down on immigration would be one of his priorities as president

Kelly specifically calls on law enforcement agents to "elicit all relevant information" in order to decide whether an asylum applicant has "credible fear" of persecution in their country of origin - without clarifying exactly what the determining factors would be. According to sources that spoke to Reuters news agency, the administration's plan is to leave a broad discretion to asylum officers, thereby making it even more difficult for migrants to be granted asylum.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act an applicant for asylum must establish clear evidence that being sent home would result in him or her facing persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion. The new measures proposed by Kelly would supercede virtually all those put forward under former President Barack Obama and other previous administrations, and are sure to spur fears that the government is moving ahead with its hardline approach toward immigration.

Memos aim to speed up deportations

The leaked documents have drawn criticism from some human rights activists. Joanne Liu, senior immigrant policy advocacy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said on Twitter that the proposed rules showed that the Trump administration is "bent on inflicting cruelty on millions of immigrant families."

The memos do not feature calls to mobilize the National Guard to help deport migrants, as was reported earlier this week. They do, however, feature a provision that would allow enforcement agents to immediately return Mexicans back to their country after being apprehended at the border - a departure from the Obama administration's practice of housing them on US soil while they await a decision on their immigrant status.

The memos also outline plans to help quell the growing number of unaccompanied minors traveling across the border. A proposed law would allow the government to prosecute parents found to have paid smugglers to bring their children to the US.

In 2015, just 18 percent of asylum applicants who saw their cases reviewed by a judge were ultimately granted asylum, according to numbers provided by the Justice Department. Nonetheless, Trump made tightening restrictions on asylum seekers - as well as cracking down on immigration in general - a priority as a presidential candidate in 2016.

Earlier in February, US authorities detained hundreds during a series of immigrations raids across the country, and in January, the Trump administration made headlines worldwide by issuing an executive order banning certain nationals from entering the US.

According to a White House official who spoke to the Washington Post in confidence, the proposed regulations are under review by the White House Counsel's office.

blc/rc (Reuters, AP)

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