Ahead of his trip to the southern border Friday, President Trump reiterated his call for Congress to overhaul U.S. immigration laws, but this time he said lawmakers should “get rid of the whole asylum system.”
The Trump administration has already implemented ways to make it more challenging for immigrants to seek asylum in the United States. But suggesting that the entire asylum system be scrapped is a step further than he has gone in the past.
He also reiterated that Congress should dispense with immigration judges, a comment he made earlier in the week.
“Congress has to act. . . . They have to get rid of the whole asylum system because it doesn’t work. And frankly we should get rid of judges,” Trump told reporters before leaving for Calexico, Calif.
Later, during a roundtable discussion at the U.S. Border Patrol Station in Calexico, Trump alleged that gang members pose as asylum seekers and tell border agents they fear for their lives. Afterward, a reporter asked him to clarify what he had meant when he said the United States should get rid of the asylum system. Trump didn’t directly answer the question, but he said that “rough, tough people are asking for asylum,” adding, “It doesn’t work that way.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) blasted Trump’s comments in a statement.
“Since our founding, this country has been a place of refuge — a safe haven for people fleeing tyranny, oppression and violence,” Newsom said. “His words show a total disregard of the Constitution, our justice system, and what it means to be an American.”
Under U.S. law, any migrant who steps foot on U.S. soil is entitled to ask for asylum, and if it’s determined that they have legitimate reason to fear for their safety in their home country, they’ll be given a hearing before a judge at a later date.
When Trump says he wants Congress to get rid of the country’s asylum system, it is unlikely that he means eliminating asylum in the United States altogether. But he has long made it clear that he wants to see it dramatically limited.
And if the president wants to get rid of immigration judges, that would mean he is advocating for abandoning due process for migrants seeking asylum, which would shatter U.S. and international norms.
In 2018, the Trump administration enacted several policies in pursuit of reducing the migrant population, including a partnership with Mexico wherein asylum seekers would wait in Mexico for their hearing before an immigration judge. The administration also started a process called “metering,” which limits the number of asylum seekers who are processed at ports of entry each day, leaving many migrants waiting on the other side of the border for even that initial step.
And Saturday marks the anniversary of the “zero tolerance” policy, which said that any migrant who illegally crossed into the United States would be criminally charged. This led to the child separation crisis where children were taken from their parents and sent to shelters while their parents waited in a detention cell for a court hearing.
At a political rally last month, Trump also railed against fake asylum seekers who he said are coached on how to tell border agents they’re afraid for their lives, calling it “a big con job.”