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July 15, 2019, 8:01 p.m. EDT

Trump administration moves to effectively end asylum for migrants along southern border

New rule certain to be challenged in court

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By Associated Press

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Mexico and Central American countries have been considering a regional compact on the issue, but nothing has been decided. Guatemalan officials were expected in Washington on Monday, but apparently a meeting between President Donald Trump and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales was canceled amid a court challenge in Guatemala over whether the country could agree to a safe-country agreement with the U.S.

The new rule also will apply to the initial asylum screening, known as a “credible fear” interview, at which migrants must prove they have credible fears of returning to their home country. It applies to migrants who are arriving to the U.S., not those who are already in the country.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said additional funding given by Congress for aid at the U.S.-Mexico border isn’t enough.

“Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States.”

The treaties that countries must have signed according to the new rule are the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol or the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. But, for example, while Australia, France and Brazil have signed those treaties, so have Afghanistan and Libya, places the U.S. does not consider safe.

Along with the administration’s recent effort to send asylum seekers back over the border , Trump has tried to deny asylum to anyone crossing the border illegally and restrict who can claim asylum, and the attorney general recently tried to keep thousands of asylum seekers detained while their cases play out.

Nearly all of those efforts have been blocked by courts.

Tens of thousands of Central American migrant families cross the border each month, many claiming asylum. Border facilities have been dangerously cramped and crowded well beyond capacity. The Department of Homeland Security’s watchdog found fetid, filthy conditions for many children. And lawmakers who traveled there recently decried conditions .

But many migrants say they are simply too scared to stay in their own countries.

Oscar Ponce, a 48-year-old bus driver from Honduras who was waiting in a Mexican border town to cross into the U.S., said he wanted to apply for asylum legally. He left his home after gangs threatened to kill him if he didn’t pay their “tax.”

“Plan B is through the river,” Ponce told The Associated Press in Ciudad Juarez.

Immigration courts are backlogged by more than 800,000 cases, meaning many people won’t have their asylum claims heard for years despite more judges being hired.

People are generally eligible for asylum in the U.S. if they fear return to their home country because they would be persecuted based on race, religion, nationality or membership in a particular social group.

During the budget year for 2009, there were 35,811 asylum claims, and 8,384 were granted. During 2018 budget year, there were 162,060 claims filed, and 13,168 were granted.

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