The new regulation forbids refugees from claiming asylum in the US if they have traveled through a third country. Officials called it an "interim rule" until Congress passes stricter laws.
The administration of President Donald Trump announced a new rule on Monday that would severely limit the ability to claim asylum in the United States. The regulation, set to go into effect on Tuesday, would bar anyone from filing an asylum application if they passed through a third country on their way to the US.
In a statement on its website, the Department of Homeland Security specified that it will bar claims for people "where it (asylum) was available in at least one third country outside the alien's country of citizenship, nationality, or last lawful habitual residence through which he or she transited en route to the United States."
The White House hopes this will stop refugees traveling through Mexico and claiming asylum at the border.
"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," Attorney General Bill Barr said.
"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," he added.
Taking a hard line on immigration has become one of Trump's signature policy initiatives. Over the weekend, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched raids on families in New York City. However, many municipal authorities refused to cooperate with the raids, saying what ICE wanted to do was not what had previously been agreed upon.
Despite reports that the small-scale raids failed to turn up large numbers of undocumented immigrants, Trump hailed the move as "very successful" on Monday, saying "you just didn't know about it."
The new asylum regulation announced on Monday was also being used by the Trump administration to pressure Congress to pass stricter immigration controls.
Labeled an "interim rule" in lieu of action by Congress, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan argued that it was a necessary measure after previous attempts to stem the flow of immigration had proven ineffective.
Border crossing reached a 13-year high this past May, with 144,000 people being detained by US Border Patrol. As immigration from Mexico has ebbed, more families from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have been trying to make their way north to escape violence and poverty.
Trump has been putting pressure on Mexico and Guatemala to help stop the asylum-seekers. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales had been scheduled to travel to Washington to work on a deal to label Guatemala a "safe third country" for asylum requests, but canceled the trip after his country's constitutional court imposed an injunction on Morales' plan until he seeks approval from the legislature.
Former Foreign Minister Edgar Gutierrez told the El Periodico daily the deal would have made Guatemala "the biggest concentration camp in history."
Mexico objects to measures
Mexican Foreign Minister Manuel Ebrard issued a condemnation of the policy later on Monday, saying that Mexico "does not agree" with any measure that limits access to asylum. He also said that a "safe third country" agreement with Washington could only be made with congressional approval.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Mexico City added that any refugees who are rejected by the US should be sent to their country of origin and not to Mexico.
es/ng (AP, AFP, Reuters)