In 2019, the Trump Administration put a new rule in place that prohibited immigrants from claiming asylum in the United States unless they tried to claim it in another country first. If a person trying to claim asylum in the U.S. did not try to claim it in a country they passed through on their way to the U.S. border, they were not permitted entry into the U.S.
Now, in 2020, a federal judge ruled that this strict immigration policy is illegal. The U.S. District Judge of Washington D.C. ruled in favor of asylum seekers and immigration nonprofits that said this rule, known as the ‘third-country asylum rule,’ violated the Immigration and Nationality Act that generally allows anyone who makes it to U.S. soil to apply for asylum.
This decision came after the Supreme Court decided to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in mid-June. While some laud this as a step forward in immigration policy, others are worried that the Trump Administration may continue to increase restrictions on current immigration policies before election day in November.
However, despite potential changes in the future, this rule has immediate ramifications for those seeking asylum within the U.S. and how asylum cases will be handled in the future.
What is the Third-Country Asylum Rule?
The asylum rule, nicknamed the third-country asylum rule, was instated in July of 2019 to slow the flow of Central American migrants coming through the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico. It detailed that a person must apply for protection or asylum in a country they pass through. If a person is denied protection in this country, only then can they seek asylum within the U.S.
The policy had specific mentions of the U.S. and Mexico border to reduce what Homeland Security saw as a significant driver of irregular migration into the U.S. The policy was seen as a possible solution to what some see as a large number of people trying to enter the country and waiting for their court date in the U.S. rather than in another country. The shift in policy also impacted Mexico and Guatemala, countries where migrants or refugees often passed on their way towards asylum within the U.S.
One of the reasons that the rule was overturned was because the Trump administration failed to follow the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA) that required the government to give Americans enough time and opportunity to weigh in on such rule changes. Not allowing enough time for the public to weigh in meant that the current administration illegally instated the rule.
For some, this ruling was one of the latest in a string of policies made by the Trump administration that violated federal law in haste to make the policy, ending in regulations being rolled back or limited in how they are carried out. The administration argued that allowing time for public consideration would prompt migrants to rush to the border, reasoning found to be insufficient by the D.C. District Court to warrant a violation of legal procedure.
The ruling that was once published by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security is now illegal in what is seen as a victory for many.
What Happens Now?
While the D.C. District Court’s decision will immediately invalidate the asylum rule dictating that immigrants apply for protection before arriving on U.S. soil, it is unlikely that there will be a flood of asylum claims. The third-country asylum rule has been a strict and heavily fought immigration policy, but it is not the only piece that the Trump Administration has instated regarding immigration. Other overlapping policies have effectively sealed the border to asylum seekers, even before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended travel.
Information presented by the Department of Justice outlines tripling immigration rates between 2013 and 2018, where only a small minority of those who apply are granted asylum. Many expect this trend to continue with the coronavirus pandemic, where immigration has been stalled almost to a halt. As immigration nonprofits and migrants move forward, they may run into issues with a framework of restrictive immigration policies that the Trump administration has installed during the pandemic to extend past when it subsides.
Immigration policy is still strict and well-enforced due to pandemic regulations and other stipulations related to visas, asylum, and citizenship. The Trump administration has sealed the immigration system tightly to prevent legal and illegal immigration, particularly in South American countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico. There is still much work to be done to allow migration for humanitarian protection, which may have to wait for a more lenient administration.
Moving Forward with Immigration Policy
One of President Trump’s campaign cornerstones back in 2016 was his tough stance on immigration, which he maintained throughout his presidency. As the possibility of his reelection comes closer, many within the immigration world are beginning to anticipate additional restrictions or limitations placed on legal and illegal immigration.
Despite some of the newer limitations on travel or immigration, whether through the pandemic or continuous attempts to limit immigration into the U.S., individuals continue to have legal pathways to immigrate to the United States. Whether for humanitarian protections like asylum, work visas, or other allowances, there are still legitimate ways for individuals to enter the U.S. that adhere to current policy.
Like many complicated matters of citizenship, an attorney skilled in this law area may help ensure that a person’s case is heard fairly and with every protection offered by the law. A local immigration attorney can award a person seeking asylum or citizenship with a clear path forward that accounts for immigration policy changes.
As the pandemic continues, it appears that there will continue to be changes to normal life and function within the U.S. Unfortunately, immigration is something that may be limited for humanitarian protections and political motives. Immigration nonprofits and lawmakers continue to fight for immigration protections, but there may still be limitations in what cases are heard and who is permitted visas or asylum moving forward.