US plans tough restrictions on asylum seekers

WASHINGTON (AFP): The Biden administration proposed tough new restrictions on asylum seekers Tuesday, saying it wanted to head off a migrant rush to the southern border when Covid-related controls are lifted.

The new rules force US-bound migrants to apply for asylum online through the government’s CBP One app and make an appointment to meet US officials, or apply for asylum first in a country they pass through to get to the US frontier.

Those who don’t go through that process, and cross the border anyway, will be presumed ineligible for asylum.

The proposed rules, published in the Federal Register for a 30-day comment period before implementation, appear to partly revive the tough regime set by President Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump that was eventually found unconstitutional.

But the Biden administration said that, in the absence of action from Congress, this is the only way to deal with the border, where up to 200,000 people try to cross each month, most of them requesting asylum.

“This administration will not allow mass chaos and disorder at the border because of Congress’s failure to act,” an official said on grounds of anonymity.

The new rules apply a system already in practice for migrants from Ukraine, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti.

The rules are expected to be put into place when the current Title 42 program which uses Covid-19 pandemic controls to tightly restrict immigration are lifted, expected on May 11.

“We are strengthening the availability of legal, orderly pathways for migrants to come to the United States, at the same time proposing new consequences on those who fail to use processes made available to them by the United States and its regional partners,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement.

Officials said the new rules were temporary and would expire after 24 months, but did not say what would replace them.

Pro-migrant groups condemned the new measure, comparing it to Trump’s moves to make it nearly impossible to enter the United States on an asylum request.

“This sweeping asylum ban will shut the door to countless refugees seeking safety and protection in the United States,” said Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America.

“This policy is illegal, immoral, and will exact a frightening human toll on children, women, and men seeking safety,” she said.