Migrants wait to get processed for their departure from a migrant shelter in Matamoros, Mexico on January 25, 2019. Some critics say proposed changes by the Trump administration, which begin a month-long comment period Monday, would effectively end asylum in the United States. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo
June 15 (UPI) -- A series of changes proposed by the Trump administration to restrict immigration and make it more difficult for migrants to receive asylum in the United States were posted to the Federal Register on Monday to begin a public comment period.
The 161-page notice of proposed rulemaking from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security would grant additional powers to deny requests for asylum and other protections.
The changes were proposed by the administration last week and are part of President Donald Trump's efforts to restrict immigration into the United States. Their publishing Monday in the Federal Register opens a 30-day comment period before the changes take effect.
The new rules would give law enforcement officers and judges more power to deny asylum claims due to forms of persecution including gender-based violence, gang threats and torture at the hands of rogue government officials.
The changes also allow immigration judges to dismiss cases without a hearing if there isn't sufficient supporting evidence for an application.
Another proposed change would subject a migrant's asylum claim to greater scrutiny if they traveled through at least one country en route to the United States, expanding an existing "safe third country" rule that took effect a year ago. It requires migrants traveling through a third-party nation to first apply for protection there. In many cases involving Central American migrants, that country would be Mexico.
"The failure to seek asylum or refugee protection in at least one country through which an alien transited while en route to the United States may reflect an increased likelihood that the alien is misusing the asylum system as a mechanism to enter and remain in the United States rather than legitimately seeking urgent protection," the draft rule states.
The proposal also states that living unlawfully in the United States for at least a year prior to applying for asylum would become a "significant adverse factor" in the application process. Failing to file a tax return or having a criminal conviction -- even those that are ultimately reversed, vacated or expunged -- would be detrimental to a migrant's asylum prospects under the new rules.
The changes would also alter the definition of persecution to represent "an extreme concept of a severe level of harm," and would exclude "every instance of harm that arises generally out of civil, criminal, or military strife in a country" as well as "any and all treatment that the United States regards as unfair, offensive, unjust, or even unlawful or unconstitutional."
The changes also define when an application is "frivolous" and redefine the terms "particular social group," "political opinion," "persecution" and "firm resettlement." They also change the burden of proof in asylum cases from showing a "significant possibility" to a "reasonable possibility" of harm in their native countries.
The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security said the changes "more effectively separate baseless claims from meritorious ones."
"This would better ensure groundless claims do not delay or divert resources from deserving claims," they said in a joint statement.
Every year, tens of thousands of migrants worldwide seek asylum to escape violence and persecution in their native countries. Narrowing the U.S. process means the federal government would turn away more applicants.
Some critics have condemned the proposed changes and others say it could entirely end the U.S. asylum system.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, said there are two main changes with the new rules.
"Individuals who seek protection at the border who pass the first stage of the asylum process would no longer be put into full immigration court proceedings. Instead, they would only be given access to narrower 'asylum-only' court proceedings," he wrote in a blog post last week. "In these proceedings, even if they were eligible for another form of relief than asylum, they would not be allowed to apply for it.
"Second, the new rules would permit judges to deny asylum applications without a hearing. Currently, asylum applicants must be permitted to testify about their case. But under the new rules, judges could declare that an applicant hadn't put enough evidence in the application itself and deny a person their day in court. This change would be particularly harmful for those without lawyers.
"Should the rules go into effect, they would represent the end of the asylum system as we know it."
Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, says if the changes are adopted they would result in denials for many legitimate asylum-seekers seeking protection in the United States.
"There are so many provisions in here that make it impossible for even the most meritorious asylum-seekers to get through the U.S. asylum process," she said.
After the 30-day comment period, the government must consider the public comments and prepare a final rule. Because the process can take months -- and become subject to any number of lawsuits -- the rule isn't expected to take effect until this fall, at the soonest.
Migrants ride an inflatable raft on the Suchiate River from Tecun Uman, Guatemala, while a smuggler waits for their arrival in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico on Thursday. Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo