The Corner


Will Today’s New Asylum Rules Do Any Good?

Migrants wait outside a UN Refugee Agency office during a march demanding buses to take them to the U.S. border, in Mexico City, Mexico, November 8, 2018. (Henry Romero/Reuters )

The president issued new rules regarding asylum today, effective for 90 days starting midnight tonight. They have elicited the usual hair-on-fire reaction from the usual suspects.

To begin with, the new rules will almost certainly be enjoined by a federal judge (I would guess in San Francisco because why not), possibly before the day is out.

If the rules do ever go into effect, they would likely have a modest effect on the number of bogus asylum seekers who are let go into the U.S., but only a modest effect. The point of the new rules is to funnel people claiming asylum to the ports of entry by making it less attractive to sneak between the ports of entry and turn yourself in the Border Patrol. People who sneak in and say they fear return might still be able to stay but would have to meet a higher standard (“reasonable fear” instead of “credible fear”), and even if they did that, they’d get a less-lucrative status that wouldn’t lead to citizenship (“withholding of removal” rather than asylum).

There would be several benefits to funneling asylum-seekers to the ports of entry: It’s more orderly, consumes less resources, doesn’t distract the Border Patrol agents (who have to spend hours processing groups of bogus asylum seekers who turned themselves in, leaving the border wide open for other illegals or drug smugglers), and it might make it more likely that the people waiting at the ports of entry, where it can take days or weeks to get your case heard, would be more likely to just apply for asylum in Mexico, which is what they should be doing anyway.

But even if all of the Central Americans headed here (in a caravan or not) applied for asylum at the ports of entry, the loopholes in the law and the lack of detention space mean most of them will still be let in to the country and not leave when their asylum cases are rejected (as they almost always are). Because getting asylum is not the goal — applying for asylum is, because it serves essentially as a ruse to get into the U.S., allowing the applicant to eventually disappear into the illegal population. These new rules are about the most the president can do to stem the flow of bogus asylum seekers without changes from Congress.

Mark Krikorian — Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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