The Trump administration announced new measures Thursday to deny asylum to illegal immigrants, citing emergency national security powers that'll end longstanding humanitarian protections, according to multiple reports.
Speaking as he prepared to leave for Europe, Mr Trump said: "We need people in our country but they have to come in legally and they have to have merit".
Once the plan goes into full effect, migrants entering at the US southern border would be eligible for asylum only if they report at official ports of entry, officials said.
Officials say the measure is meant to funnel asylum seekers through official border crossings for speedy rulings instead of having them try to circumvent such crossings on the almost 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) stretch.
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Many of these immigrants in the past have sought asylum citing a "credible fear" of harm having already committed other offenses, such as entering the country illegally. "Channeling those aliens to ports of entry would encourage these aliens to first avail themselves of offers of asylum from Mexico".
Mr Sessions, who resigned at Mr Trump's request this week, also instructed immigration judges and asylum officers to view illegal border-crossing as a "serious adverse factor" in deciding a case and to consider whether applicants could have escaped danger by relocating within their own countries.
"The continuing and threatened mass migration of aliens with no basis for admission into the United States through our southern border has precipitated a crisis and undermines the integrity of our borders", Trump said in the order.
Those seeking political or other kinds of asylum - almost all of them coming from impoverished and violent crime-plagued countries of Central America - will be heard exclusively at the border crossings, administration officials told journalists.
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The section is the same legal authority Trump asserted to bar foreigners from certain Muslim-majority countries from coming to the United States under the "travel ban" in early 2017. The new rule is nearly certain to be challenged in courts. Claims have spiked in recent years, and there is a backlog of more than 800,000 cases pending in immigration court, with a wait time that can be almost two years.
Migrants would only be eligible for asylum if they came through official ports of entry. "It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree", Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the ACLU, told the Washington Times.
In 2017, the US fielded more than 330,000 asylum claims, almost double the number two years earlier and surpassing Germany as highest in the world. Before the midterm elections, Trump mulled ending birthright citizenship - the policy that ensures all children born on United States soil are automatically citizens - by executive order. "They clearly and explicitly meant to make asylum available to anyone who reaches the United States". About 4,800 migrants are sheltered in a sports complex in Mexico City, some 600 miles (965 kilometers) from the US border.
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