U.S. Department of Homeland Security: DHS and DOJ Issue Third-Country Asylum Rule

by Audrey Kim

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced stricter eligibility qualifications for asylum seekers on July 15, 2019, according to a statement released by the DHS. The joint Interim Final Rule (IFR), published in the Federal Register as of July 16, 2019, denies asylum to any applicants who passed through a third country in transit to the United States but did not formally seek asylum in that country, with only a few exceptions. Though this rule applies to all migrants, it would most heavily impact Central American migrants fleeing danger by land. DHS Acting Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan claimed in a statement that the third-country asylum rule is meant to curtail “asylum-seekers failing to seek urgent protection in the first available country, economic migrants lacking a legitimate fear of persecution, and the transnational criminal organizations, traffickers, and smugglers exploiting our system for profits.” 

“This rule change is the latest in a string of aggressive and unlawful programs proposed by the Trump administration that seek to drastically curtail the rights of people seeking asylum in the United States,” says Geoff Thale, Vice President for Programs at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The third-country asylum rule has stirred similar criticism from other immigration advocates who question the legality and impact of the provision. Legal organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Center for Constitutional Rights, and Southern Poverty Law Center, took swift action to challenge the lawful nature of the new provision, suing the Trump Administration within a day of the DHS announcement about the new rule.

Others have also raised concerns about the tensions that this regulation has created in regards to US relations with others foreign powers. The third-country asylum rule places new burdens upon Guatemala and Mexico, for example, two countries that most migrants entering the United States through the southern border often pass through. The US has reached a “safe third country” agreement with Canada at the northern border that mutually limits asylum seekers from arriving in one country then applying to another for asylum, but there is no such bilateral acknowledgement with Mexico or Guatemala.

This IFR was announced amidst widespread controversy surrounding the Trump administration’s treatment of immigration-related matters, such as the President’s recent inflammatory tweet telling some Congress members to “go back” to their countries, the “zero tolerance” policy that separated families, and the horrific conditions of border facilities. As immigration advocates challenge the administration’s recent policy shifts in court, asylum seekers fleeing persecution continue to be left in danger.