By Associated Press
TIJUANA, Mexico — Hundreds of immigrants showed up at border crossings Tuesday in hopes of getting into the U.S. but faced the likelihood of being turned away under a new Trump administration asylum rule that upends long-standing protections for people fleeing violence and oppression in their homelands.
The policy went into effect Tuesday but drew a swift lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.
“This is the Trump administration’s most extreme run at an asylum ban yet,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said. “It clearly violates domestic and international law and cannot stand.”
The policy represents the most forceful attempt to date by President Donald Trump to slash the number of people seeking asylum in America. It comes at a time when Trump’s recent tweets telling four members of Congress to “go back” to other countries have set off an uproar.
Trump did not mention the new practices Tuesday during a White House meeting.
Under the rules, migrants who pass through another country on their way to the U.S. will be ineligible for asylum. Most of the immigrants arriving at the border this year pass through Mexico — including Central Americans, Africans, Cubans and Haitians. That makes it all but impossible for them to get asylum. The rule also applies to children who have crossed the border alone.
At the crossing in Tijuana, 12 people whose numbers were first on a waiting list to enter through a San Diego border crossing were escorted behind a metal gate to a white van that left minutes later to turn them over to U.S. authorities.
Ndifor Gedeon, 27, arrived in Tijuana nearly three months ago with the hope of seeking asylum in the U.S. after being jailed in Cameroon by a government that has been going after the African nation’s English-speaking minority.
He was rethinking those plans after hearing that he may not have a chance at getting asylum because of the new policy and if his case is denied he will be deported straight back to Cameroon.
“I feel sick,” he said of the anxiety consuming him. “If I am sent back to Cameroon, I’d lose my life. The situation is very horrible.”
He speaks no Spanish and does not feel safe in Tijuana, which has one of the highest homicide rates in Mexico. Even so, he prefers Tijuana to returning to Cameroon.
Trump has long complained that immigrants are taking advantage of the nation’s asylum system to get into the country, and his administration has taken several steps to limit their options.
Many of the measures have been rejected by the courts, but one notable exception is a policy that requires certain asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their immigration court cases get resolved. About 20,000 have been sent back to Mexico, and thousands more are on wait lists just to get to the front of the line to get an asylum interview.
Asylum seekers must also pass an initial screening called a “credible fear” interview, a hurdle that a vast majority clear. Under the new policy, they would fail the test unless they sought asylum in at least one country they traveled through and were denied. They would be placed in fast-track deportation proceedings and flown to their home countries at U.S. expense.
Despite the policies, record numbers of immigrant families have been crossing the border this year, overwhelming border facilities and authorities. Five immigrant children have died since late last year after being detained by the government, and children have been found in squalid and overcrowded border facilities.