The Trump administration announced a new standard for asylum-seekers Tuesday, saying those engaged in gang crimes, racked up drunken-driving convictions, engaged in domestic violence or were convicted of felonies can now be denied asylum on those grounds.
Asylum-seekers who have been deported but sneaked back into the country, and those that engage in migrant smuggling, can also be denied, under the new rule, which Homeland Security and the Justice Department said will be effective in 30 days.
“A lot of people may scratch their head and say ‘you mean you could [get asylum] before?’” said Ken Cuccinelli, the No. 2 official at Homeland Security.
The rule is the latest stiffening of asylum rules under President Trump, and Mr. Cuccinelli said it’s an attempt to “get the charlatans out of the system” and preserve it for those who are really deserving.
Asylum is the humanitarian protection granted to people who’ve reached the U.S. It’s similar to refugee status, which under American law is granted to those who are still outside U.S. borders.
Homeland Security and the Justice Department said the goal of the new rules is to prevent criminals from abusing the asylum system to land a free pass.
The Immigration and Nationality Act lists some crimes, such as engaging in persecution, that are automatic bars to asylum. But it also gives the administration power to decide what other crimes are serious enough to disqualify a person from getting asylum.
Among the new additions are unlawful receipt of public benefits, using fraudulent documents, or any federal, state, tribal or local felony conviction. Persons who received a civil finding of domestic violence, such as a restraining order, even without a criminal conviction, can also be denied asylum under the new rules.
“We’re a generous nation, but we don’t want to be generous to people who are abusing their household members,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
Critics complained that the new standards are so broad that most serious criminals will not be able to win asylum.
“You’re trying to include people who’ve gotten a DUI as a bar? On its face, it’s prejudiced against poor people,” wrote one commenter, Joel Watters.
Asylum policy has come to dominate the immigration debate in recent years after migrants, particularly families from Central America, had figured out that if they showed up at the border and made claims for protection, it would take years for their cases to be decided.
They would be allowed to live — and work — in the U.S. during that time. Only a small fraction win asylum, but many disappear while their cases are being adjudicated.
Mr. Cuccinelli said when they do sniff out people who, because of their criminal records, don’t qualify for asylum, they may be deported, though several other protections such as the Convention Against Torture could block some removals.
The stiffer asylum standard joins other moves the administration has already made, such as the Migrant Protection Protocols, commonly called “Remain in Mexico,” which pushed asylum-seekers back across the border to wait in Mexico for their asylum court dates; attempts to limit work authorization for asylum-seekers; and new standards giving adjudicators the right to reject asylum claims from migrants who crossed through Mexico or other countries then sought asylum in the U.S.
The reasoning for that last change was that Mexico was deemed a safe country for Central Americans, so if they were truly seeking protection, they could have stayed there. If they continued to the U.S., they were more like traditional undocumented immigrants coming for economic or family reasons.
Each of those policies is being battled in the courts.