The Trump administration on Monday announced a new “safe third country” policy that will drastically reduce the number of Central American migrants eligible to receive asylum in the U.S.
The new policy, which will take effect when it is published in the Federal Register Tuesday, requires that migrants first apply for refugee status in Mexico, or whatever country they enter after leaving home, before seeking asylum in the U.S. Under the policy, only those migrants who have been denied asylum in another country will be eligible to seek asylum in the U.S.
“Ultimately, today’s action will reduce the overwhelming burdens on our domestic system caused by asylum-seekers failing to seek urgent protection in the first available country, economic migrants lacking a legitimate fear of persecution, and the transnational criminal organizations, traffickers, and smugglers exploiting our system for profits,” Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said in a statement.
The rule change, which is sure to be met with numerous legal challenges, is designed to discourage economic migrants from applying for asylum and includes exceptions for victims of human trafficking and other crimes.
Attorney General Bill Barr said the move would stop “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 policy shift builds on the previously implemented Migrant Protection Protocols, which required that certain asylum-seekers remain in Mexico while their cases are being adjudicated.
Federal law allows anyone who enters the U.S. to apply for asylum but includes an exception for those who first travel through a “safe third country.”
Currently, the U.S. only has a “safe third country” agreement with Canada and administration officials have thus far been rebuffed in their efforts to secure a similar arrangement with Mexico. Central American countries, including Guatemala and El Salvador, are considering adopting a regional compact to strike a similar deal with the U.S., but there is a legal challenge pending in Guatemala that is now preventing the finalization of any such deal.