Another directive on immigration from the Trump administration begets another court challenge. In a sweeping rule change, the administration has declared that, with narrow exceptions, any “alien who enters or attempts to enter the United States across the southern border after failing to apply for protection in a third country outside the alien’s country of citizenship, nationality, or last lawful habitual residence through which the alien transited en route to the United States is ineligible for asylum.”
The new rule has so far triggered two lawsuits arguing that it contravenes the Immigration and Nationality Act and exceeds the attorney general’s statutory authority. More such challenges will doubtless follow, and judges will render their verdict. But you don’t need a court to see that this is bad policy.
True, every aspect of the U.S. asylum system is under great strain. Border facilities built to house single Mexican males are facing a huge influx of Central American families seeking asylum. Court dockets are overflowing, and nearly half of the overall backlog of about 1 million cases involve an asylum claim. This creates incentives for meritless claims, because asylum-seekers who pass their initial screening are released into the U.S. to wait years for a court date. And law enforcement can’t keep up with removing those whose claims have been rejected.
It would be one thing if an administration committed to welcoming immigrants and helping genuine refugees was trying to cope by temporarily limiting applications. But this isn’t what’s happening. The president wants to restrict all forms of immigration, and admissions of refugees have fallen by three-quarters on his watch.
Policy changes have even made it harder for immigrants serving in the U.S. military to acquire citizenship. Other presidents have seen immigration as an asset and an affirmation of American values; this one sees it as an economic liability and a way to fire up his base.
The Trump administration has failed to pursue fixes that would reduce the asylum backlog. The best way to deter meritless claims remains expeditious dismissal under due process. Yet since taking office, the administration has consistently failed to hire as many immigration judges as Congress has authorized; in March, when Trump was complaining about “horrible asylum laws,” the director of the office that oversees the immigration courts actually announced a slowdown in hiring judges and their supporting attorneys.
On top of all this, the president has left senior jobs at the Department of Homeland Security — the agency responsible for immigration policy — without properly appointed officials.
Trump should be trying to mend the asylum system. His new rule aims instead to blow it up — harming genuine asylum-seekers, America’s standing and relations with neighbors, and global understandings on protecting refugees.
FROM AN EDITORIAL ON BLOOMBERG VIEW