Wendy Carolina Mejia from Honduras with her children at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico (Mauricio Lima/New York Times)

The Trump Administration moves to end asylum for almost all migrants and refugees from Central America.

In the latest attempt to shut down the system, established under international law, Administration officials said they will deny asylum to migrants who failed to apply for protections in at least one country they passed through on their way north.

Those coming from Honduras and El Salvador will have to be denied asylum in Guatemala or Mexico before they can apply in the US. Guatemalans will have to be denied asylum in Mexico.

The Border Patrol has detained 363,300 migrant family members from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala since October 2018, compared with more than 3,200 Mexican family members.

The Guatemalan and Mexican Government have refused to implement the plan. But the But the Trump Administration — which threatened in June to implement tariffs beginning at 5% and rising to 25% on Mexico — made the announcement after talks broke down and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales did not attend a Monday meeting at the White House.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard responded to the Administration’s declaration, “Mexico doesn’t agree with measures that limit access to asylum and refuge for those people who fear for their life or security in their countries of origin because of persecution.”

See also Why Trump’s Tariff Threat to Stop Migrants Won’t Work With Mexico

A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups filed a court challenge on Tuesday in the Northern District of California in San Francisco, seeking an injunction to block the policy:

It is obvious and well understood that asylum seekers often pass through third countries on their way to seeking refuge in the United States. Accordingly, in crafting the statutory provisions governing asylum, Congress took care to ensure that non-citizens within our country or at the border would be able to seek asylum even if they transited through another country to reach the United States.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned”: “It will put vulnerable families at risk. It will undermine efforts by countries across the region to devise the coherent, collective responses that are needed.”

But Attorney General William Barr insisted:

This rule is a lawful exercise of authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum. 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.

A Campaign to End All Asylum

The restriction on asylum is the latest measure as Donald Trump pursues an anti-migrant message as a leading part of his bid for a second term as President.

Last year, as part of the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that asylum would no longer be granted for those fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence, although courts blocked implementation of the rule.

Citizenship and Immigration Services employees have been issued new guidance and training manuals to make it harder for applicants to pass initial screening. Barr has issued new rules to deny bail to people in prison for immigration violations who then claim asylum.
At ports of entry, Border Patrol agents have slowed processing so many asylum seekers give up.

The Administration separated almost 3,000 children from parents, sending them to detention centers hundreds and even thousands of miles away, before courts intervened. However, Trump’s hardline anti-immigrant advisor Stephen Miller is still pressing for a 1990s decree, limiting detention of migrant children to no more than 20 days and requiring humane treatment, to be overturned.

See also TrumpWatch, Day 779: Administration Continuing Separation of Immigrant Children from Parents

Courts blocked an Administration effort to declare that any migrant who crosses the US border between the official ports of entry is ineligible for asylum. But they have allowed the Homeland Security Department to begin ordering asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to proceed.

More than 13,000 migrants, many with little access to lawyers, are now caught in Mexico by the orders.