The Trump administration is expected to announce a 180-day ban on a range of asylum requests citing the threat posed by the coronavirus, according to two people familiar with the matter, in its latest effort to restrict immigration ahead of the Tuesday election.
Under the new rule, anyone entering or trying to enter the U.S. by land from Canada or Mexico would be ineligible for asylum — and subject to removal — because of potential national security threats to the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the rule hasn’t been made public.
The 180-day clock would start the day the rule is announced. Anyone who had been in Mexico or Canada in the preceding 14 days would also be ineligible even if they arrived by air.
Such a move would block a key avenue people use to seek asylum in the U.S., although it wouldn’t stop the processing of the estimated 1 million people whose asylum claims are already underway.
The initiative is part of a broader push to restrict immigration flows into the U.S., which has been a top priority under President Donald Trump and is expected to become even more important if he wins a second term. On Thursday the administration announced it would allow no more than 15,000 refugees to be resettled in the U.S., down from a peak of about 110,000 in President Barack Obama’s last year in office.
Some 300,000 people sought asylum in the U.S. in 2019, according to Department of Homeland Security data, although the majority were already in the country when they did so. The U.S. approved about 45,000 asylum claims, with about one-third coming from Latin America.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court allowed the administration to go ahead with a policy that requires many asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their applications are processed.
“It’s shameful to use the pretext of the pandemic to push a political agenda while shirking our legal and humanitarian responsibilities to vulnerable children and families,” said Krish Vignarajah, the president of Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services. “For those fleeing violence and persecution, 60,000 of whom have already been forced to languish in makeshift camps because of the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, a six-month halt to asylum could literally be a death sentence.”
The administration provoked an outcry after Trump instituted a “zero tolerance” approach to immigration in 2018, which meant that families detained after crossing the U.S. border illegally were separated. The administration didn’t keep careful track of where the parents went after separation and now the parents of 545 of the children can’t be located.
Press officials at the State Department declined to comment. Officials at the Justice and Homeland Security departments, as well as the White House, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
But White House adviser Stephen Miller, a leading architect of the Trump administration’s immigration policy, told NBC News in an interview that cutting down on asylum-seekers would be a top second-term priority.
He said the goal would be “raising and enhancing the standard for entry,” according to NBC.