The Trump administration announced a new immigration rule Thursday that will block migrants from seeking asylum if they fail to cross the USA border at an official port of entry. "It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree", Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, responded in in a statement.
Mr. Trump had telegraphed the move last week, saying he was fed up with migrants exploiting US laws by making bogus claims.
A senior administration official said the White House hopes that by funneling asylum claimants to ports of entry, officials will be able to assess and adjudicate the claims more rapidly.
Trump's administration argues that he has the executive power to curb immigration in the name of national security, a power he invoked right after taking office with a controversial ban on travelers from several mostly-Muslim countries - whose final version was upheld by the US Supreme Court on June 26 after a protracted legal battle.
But according to the new rule, Trump has authority to restrict illegal immigration "if he determines it to be in the national interest".
"The interim rule, if applied to a hypothetical proclamation suspending the entry of aliens who cross the border unlawfully, would bar them from eligibility for asylum, and thereby channel inadmissible aliens to ports of entry, where they would be processed in a controlled, orderly, and lawful manner", one senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon. As of Thursday, there are more than 5,600 US troops deployed to the border mission, with about 550 actually working on the border in Texas.
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The administration has long said immigration officials are drowning in asylum cases partly because people falsely claim asylum and then live in the US with work permits.
This is expected to put a dent in those streaming into an already overburdened system, officials said, noting that there is a backlog of more than 700,000 cases in the immigration courts.
"Beyond Trump's dehumanizing rhetoric are mothers, fathers, and children fleeing extremely risky situations enduring a perilous journey because they've had no choice but to leave their home".
If an asylum seeker enters the USA illegally, they have been - until now - still entitled to a hearing of their claim.
Trump made immigration a key issue in Tuesday's election, stoking fear among his supporters about a migrant caravan that's still hundreds of miles away in Mexico.