Friday 20 September 2019

Trump suffers setbacks in his bid to stop immigrants

Caught: Guatemalan migrant Ledy Perez embraces her son Anthony as a Mexican National Guardsman blocks their route to the US. Photo: Jose Luiz Gonzalez/Reuters
Caught: Guatemalan migrant Ledy Perez embraces her son Anthony as a Mexican National Guardsman blocks their route to the US. Photo: Jose Luiz Gonzalez/Reuters

David Nakamura

US President Donald Trump has suffered a series of fresh legal and political setbacks in his efforts to tighten US asylum laws, raising doubts about the sustainability of the immigration deal with Mexico he announced six weeks ago.

Mexico and Guatemala have pulled back from entering into "safe third country" agreements that would require migrants passing through those countries to apply for asylum there before reaching the United States.

A federal judge in California also blocked a new regulatory provision that aimed to accomplish a similar outcome by denying most migrants entry at the southern border if they had not applied for asylum in the first safe country they reached.

The upshot is the administration has come up empty in enacting sweeping changes to asylum policies Mr Trump suggested in early June would be a major component in his immigration deal with Mexico to address the humanitarian crisis at the border.

Experts said the administration will have difficulty maintaining and building upon the modest initial progress it has made in reversing a spike of asylum seekers that has overwhelmed the US immigration system and inflamed debate in the early stages of the 2020 presidential campaign.

"That's a problem," said David Inserra, a homeland security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "If the deterrent is not there, people will show up at the borders. If they are not sent back, that magnet is still on."

On Capitol Hill, Mr Trump's allies expressed frustration at the setbacks and said steps by the Mexican government to add 6,000 national guard forces at its southern border with Guatemala and another 15,000 at the US border will have limited success in curbing the surge of asylum seekers from Central America.

Republican Senator John Cornyn, of Texas, made a "zero" sign when asked how much progress had been made in addressing the border challenges. He emphasised the Mexican government would have to do more.

"It's a Band-Aid," fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said. "The smugglers and coyotes will find a way around the Mexican army.

"They'll bribe people. This is not a sustainable fix."

A White House official faulted Congress for failing to amend asylum laws, as the administration has requested.

"While members continue to ignore their responsibility, other countries can also take significant actions to help," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"If those countries refuse, however, then the United States will have no choice but to consider travel bans, significant actions on remittances and/or tariffs."

Mr Trump announced the immigration deal with Mexico on June 7, trumpeting it as a major victory after he threatened to enact tariffs on all Mexican goods. In addition to dispatching the national guard forces, Mexico agreed to work with the his administration to expand a programme in which asylum seekers at US ports of entry would be required to wait in Mexico as their immigration cases are adjudicated, which has stranded thousands of migrants in border towns for months.

The president also suggested the deal would eventually include safe third country agreements with Mexico and Guatemala, which immigrant rights campaigners have long opposed over concerns about migrants' well-being.

The only country with whom the United States has such an agreement is Canada.

In June, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended 94,000 migrants at the southern border, a 29pc drop from the 133,000 who were detained in May.

Though border crossings have traditionally declined during hot summer months, administration officials hailed the decrease as evidence the strategy is working.

The numbers have continued to decrease in July, but the pace remains at "crisis levels", said a CBP official.

A senior administration official pointed to a significant drop in the number of migrants who were in CBP custody from nearly 20,000 at the end of May to fewer than 8,000 this week.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump reacted angrily to the news that Guatemala's constitutional court had ruled President Jimmy Morales must gain legislative approval for a safe third country agreement with the US.

He said his administration was looking at doing "something very severe", suggesting new tariffs on Guatemala's goods and hinting at a potential travel ban to the United States. (© The Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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