Trump considers closing southern US border to migrants

US president may take executive action to bar migrants from entering country

US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Al Drago/Reuters

US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Al Drago/Reuters

 

US president Donald Trump is considering taking executive action to bar migrants, including asylum-seekers, from entering the country at the southern border, according to people familiar with the plan. The effort would be the starkest indication yet of Mr Trump’s election-season push to play to his anti-immigrant base as his party fights to keep control of US Congress.

The proposal amounts to a sweeping use of presidential power to fortify the border and impose the kind of aggressive immigration restrictions and enforcement measures that Mr Trump has made his signature pursuit.

It would also be the most drastic in a series of steps that Mr Trump has taken or threatened to take in recent days – including preparations Thursday to send as many as 1,000 active-duty Army troops to help secure the southern border – as he works to stoke fears of what he has called an “onslaught” of immigrants only days before the midterm elections.

Refuge

The president has capitalised this month on a group of thousands of Central American migrants trekking north through Mexico, many of them women and children believed to be seeking refuge from violence and economic hardship, to press his case that the United States is under siege from dangerous foreigners and must take harsh measures to hold them off.

He said without evidence this week that criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners” were “mixed in” among the people in the migrant caravan, and has blamed its formation on Democrats, falsely charging that they support allowing immigrants to stream, unchecked, into the country.

The plan appeared meant as much to generate headlines to appeal to his anti-immigrant base and to fuel outrage among Democrats and immigrant advocates – including legal challenges that administration officials are fully anticipating – as it was to have a practical effect on immigration.

The caravan is more than 1,000 miles south of the border, and it is unclear when or whether the migrants will arrive, or how many will seek to cross into the United States.

Details of the plan, including a web of complicated legal issues that will most likely prompt a swift challenge in federal courts, were still being completed Thursday, according to the people who described it, all of whom insisted on anonymity to discuss a proposal that is still under development.

The president, who is prone to changing his mind, could still decide not to take action, they stressed.

But three people briefed on the plan being considered said it envisioned Mr Trump issuing a proclamation Tuesday.

It would invoke broad presidential powers to bar foreigners from entering the country for national security reasons – under the same section of immigration law that underpinned the travel ban – to block Central American migrants from crossing the southern border, they said.

New rules

At the same time, the people said, the administration would put in place new rules that would disqualify migrants who cross the border in between ports of entry from claiming asylum. Exceptions would be made, according to those briefed, for people facing torture at home.

Taken together, the actions would effectively prevent hundreds of people in the caravan from gaining entry into the United States and making an asylum claim. But the longer-term implications could be more profound, potentially shutting down altogether an avenue – permitted under both United States and international law – that many people fleeing violence and persecution use to take refuge there.

According to American immigration law, people arriving at ports of entry on the US border have the right to seek asylum, and, if they demonstrate a “credible fear” of returning home, to have their claims processed with the possibility of eventually being granted legal status to stay.

Those who do not go to a checkpoint but are apprehended crossing the border without authorisation can also make such a claim and must, under the law, be afforded a chance to have their case heard.

Mr Trump and his advisers have complained bitterly about that system, arguing that it essentially allows anyone who wants to immigrate to make fabricated or unfounded claims of vulnerability and to stay in the United States until immigration authorities – who face a large backlog of such cases – can determine their validity.

On Thursday, Mr Trump made no distinction between people flouting immigration laws and those fleeing violence and persecution, portraying the entire caravan group as lawbreakers.

“To those in the Caravan, turnaround, we are not letting people into the United States illegally,” the president wrote. “Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!”

Legal challenges

Administration officials are well aware that the move is likely to prompt legal challenges, a fight that Mr Trump would probably relish as he works to paint Democrats as advocates of the caravan who want to maintain open borders at any cost. Mr Trump is weighing the new measures as he prepares to order 800 to 1,000 US army troops to help secure the southern border, US defence department officials said Thursday.

Jim Mattis, the defence secretary, was expected to sign papers in the coming days to send the troops. They will include engineers to help with the construction of tents and fencing, doctors for medical support, and potentially some personnel to operate drones along the border, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the deployment had not yet been finished.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the plan for executive action on the border, and referred questions about the troop deployment to the defence department and the US department of homeland security. But Mr Trump has made it clear in recent days that he is angry and frustrated about his administration’s inability to gain firmer control of the border with Mexico as the Central Americans make their way north.

“I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency,” the president said Thursday on Twitter. “They will be stopped!” It is not the first time that Mr Trump has demanded that the military secure the southern border.

In April, when another such caravan of migrants began making its way north through Mexico, he called for US troops to step in and stop the flow, suggesting that he wanted active-duty armed troops to do what immigration authorities could not. Instead, after discussions with Mr Mattis and others, Mr Trump requested that hundreds of National Guard personnel be mobilised to serve in support roles.

This time, according to officials briefed on the discussions, Mr Trump’s team had looked at sending many more troops – up to 10,000 – to aid in the response to the migrant flow, as they scrambled to satisfy the whims of a president who was demanding a muscular response. Mattis has been resistant to calls to involve the military in such endeavours.– New York Times