Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that some migrants in the new mass caravan headed north should come to the U.S. if they plan to demand asylum.
Testifying to senators, Mr. Garland was asked what his message would be to the caravan. He at first said, “I would tell them not to come,” but then said that’s not a blanket answer.
“It depends on why they are coming,” he said.
Mr. Garland said those who are coming with asylum claims are different than traditional illegal immigrants.
The answer stunned Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said when he talked to Border Patrol agents, they tell him they’re overwhelmed with people lodging iffy asylum claims, knowing it can earn them a foothold in the U.S. for years as their claims are adjudicated.
Mr. Garland said he’d been in Nogales, Arizona, to talk with Border Patrol agents, but they didn’t raise that issue with him.
“You don’t recall being told by the Border Patrol that they’re overwhelmed?” demanded Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican.
The messaging from the administration toward would-be illegal immigrants has been tricky.
Vice President Kamala Harris has told them “do not come,” drawing fierce criticism from immigrant-rights activists who said she was endangering legitimate asylum seekers.
Coming to the U.S. to reunite with family or for jobs is not a valid reason for asylum. Fleeing government persecution is.
The tricky areas are cases involving more general violence, either from gangs or within families, and whether those count.
The Trump administration tried to narrowly define those instances, but Mr. Garland has overruled those definitions and expanded the aperture for who could qualify for asylum.