July 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Justice Department said Monday it will change asylum rules to limit the number of Central American migrants reaching the American border, by officially disqualifying those who travel through Mexico to get there.
Officials said the new rule, announced jointly by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, is scheduled to go into effect Tuesday. It says those seeking asylum will not be eligible if they pass through another country to reach the U.S. border.
The change requires asylum-seekers to first apply for protection in the nation they travel through to reach the U.S. border -- which, in most cases, will be Mexico. The measure allows exceptions for victims of trafficking, migrants passing through countries that do not have a major international refugee treaty and for migrants who have already been denied asylum in other countries.
"This rule is a lawful exercise of authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum," U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. "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.
"This rule will decrease 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."
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the rule is temporary, but needed to address large numbers of refugees at the southern border.
"Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major 'pull' factor driving irregular migration to the United States ... leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey," McAleenan said in a statement.
The ACLU denounced the move and said it will challenge the rule.
"The Trump administration is trying to unilaterally reverse our country's legal and moral commitment to protect people who are fleeing danger," the organization said Monday. "This new rule is patently unlawful."
A meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Guatemalan leader Jimmy Morales, set for Monday, was canceled after Guatemala City's top civil court court blocked a controversial immigration agreement to designate Guatemala a "safe third country" to house migrants before they reach the U.S. border.