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How Trump plans to limit who can seek asylum in the U.S.

The Trump administration has announced a plan that would limit the number of non-citizens permitted to claim asylum by barring those who have crossed the border at places other than designated checkpoints. Judy Woodruff learns more from Yamiche Alcindor and Alan Gomez of USA Today about the rationale and potential challenges.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Trump administration has announced a plan that would limit the number of non-citizens permitted to claim legal asylum when crossing the southern border.

    To explain what this means, I'm joined by our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, and by Alan Gomez. He is an immigration reporter for USA Today.

    Hello to both of you.

    And, Alan, I'm going to start with you. You cover this issue all the time. What exactly does this new rule represent? What does it mean?

  • Alan Gomez:

    Yes, currently, people are allowed to apply for asylum if they either present themselves at a port of entry or enter illegally into the country, and they can still apply for asylum.

    U.S. law is very clear on that. Our international conventions that we are a party to are very clear on that. But what the administration is proposing now is to cut off the ability for people who enter the country illegally from being able to apply for asylum.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And do we know, does the administration have the legal authority to do that?

  • Alan Gomez:

    That is something that is going to be litigated quite heavily, almost immediately. We are expecting lawsuits possibly as early as tomorrow challenging this announcement, because, again, the 1965 Immigration Nationality Act specifically states somebody is allowed to apply for asylum — quote — "whether or not they enter at a designated port of arrival."

    What the administration is using, their legal argument that they're making is that another part of U.S. law that allows the president to ban entry to people if they are deemed — quote — "detrimental to the interests of the United States."

    That's the same rationale that they used to implement their travel ban, which was shot down. The first two versions of that was shot down, but it was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court. So they're thinking that that same rationale can apply here, and we're expecting a presidential proclamation as early as tomorrow, on Friday, outlining exactly who he's targeting with this.

    And then the lawsuits will start, and then we will see. This is the kind of case that will definitely end up — will likely end up before the Supreme Court.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche, this is something we have been hearing from the White House for the first several days. The first hint, I guess, was before the midterm elections. What is driving this decision on their part?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president is invoking national emergency powers, national security powers, because he sees immigration as a national security, a crisis, really.

    Over and over again, the president has said that he thinks that America is being invaded by immigrants, and as a result, you see him taking this really remarkable move.

    And I want to walk you through some to the numbers that are informing this administration. I was on a call with a senior administration official today. And this is what they were talking about. They said that the asylum — well, this is something that we know. The asylum denial rate in 2012 under President Obama, Barack Obama, was 44.5 percent.

    Now, under President Trump, it's 70 percent in 2018. Also, another number that's really important is the credible fear referrals. These are people who are referred for interviews. There's 5,000 people that were doing that in 20 — in 2008. Now it's up to 97,000 people in 2018.

    So the Trump administration is saying that there are too many people claiming asylum, and that the vast majority of these people don't have a credible fear claim.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it's — but the rationale behind their doing this is that they think most of these people are going to do what in this country? What is the fear? What is the concern?

    Is it the numbers, or is it that they think these people will break laws? Or do we — do they — are they making that clear?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president has made it pretty clear that he thinks that immigrants are dangerous to this country and he thinks that they're going to be terrorists and all sorts of people who will do harm mixed in with people that are coming to this country.

    And I think a big thing that's motivating the president is that large group of immigrants coming from Central America that — people have been referring to it as the caravan. The president said just last week at the White House they should turn back now, they're wasting their time.

    That was that was seen largely as a threat before. Now the president is following up that statement with policy changes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Alan Gomez, how does this get implemented? Do they simply look at people who come across the border who — do they simply say, if you're requesting legal asylum, we're not even going to take your paperwork?

  • Alan Gomez:

    Yes, I mean, we're still a long ways away from getting there, because this will be challenged in court.

    And judging from the administration's previous actions, there is a strong likelihood that there will be at least some kind of preliminary injunction that holds this off for a while.

    But if it goes into effect, it would be, yes, if you come into through the port of entry and you legally request asylum, they will still process those claims. But if you're caught anywhere else, if you're caught in Southern Texas, in Southern California, and you're caught by Border Patrol, and you try to request asylum, you will not be able to.

    That's the framework that they're trying to set up. There were still be some mechanisms for them to be — to try to stay in the country, but asylum will no longer be one of them for them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche, they think — the president believes, as you said, that the country is under siege. Does he feel reinforced in this belief by the midterm elections? I mean, is there a — is there a political component to this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This is all about the president feeling like he's keeping promises to that base that is staying with him.

    The president has — the president campaigned in 2016 and, of course, he campaigned during the midterms, traveling all across the country, making the case that immigrants were one of the largest really threats to America, both economically, and I would say culturally in some ways. So, the president is saying that this is a national security issue. I mean, I can't stress enough that he is invoking national emergency powers to do this. So, the president is really looking at these immigrants and saying, we can't do this.

    As part — also, there's a 78-page rule that was announced today or really released today. Part of that says that there are negotiations going on between Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and the U.S., and that those negotiations have not helped the situation.

    So the president is also saying, I tried to do this diplomatically. I now don't — I now have no choice but to do it this way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Alan Gomez, bottom line, the earliest this could be implemented is — what's the best educated guess?

  • Alan Gomez:

    Yes, again, that's — it's a good very good question.

    He is expected to possibly sign that presidential proclamation by tomorrow, which means this could go into effect very, very quickly, much like what we saw with the travel ban right after he took over and moved into the White House.

    So that could go in very quickly. That means, in theory, it could affect these caravan members that are coming, that are trying to make it to the U.S. right now. But it's important to note, the last caravan that got here — we actually have some good numbers — we have some good data on this — 401 of them legally presented themselves at ports of entry to request asylum.

    About 122 of them got fed up with that wait and tried to enter the country illegally. So that gives us an idea that the majority of these people are trying to do exactly what they say they are trying to do, which is legally present themselves at these ports.

    So it remains to be seen how many people this would actually affect.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Late-breaking story. We thank you both for scrambling.

    Alan Gomez, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks so much.

  • Alan Gomez:

    Thank you.

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