The acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday that a new rule virtually ending asylum protections for Central American migrants is actually starting out as a small “pilot.”
The new asylum rule that went into effect earlier this week is supposed to make any migrants who pass through another country on their way to the U.S. ineligible for asylum, with few exceptions. Migrants are expected to first apply in the country they passed through. The rule is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce the number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
In an interview Thursday on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan said the rule is currently only being applied at two Border Patrol stations in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, a significant change from what the Trump administration was advertising.
“Although the new federal regulation allows us to apply that to all 2,000 miles along the southwest border, we’re not going to do that,” Morgan said. “We’re really piloting it in just one location.”
Morgan also told NPR that he doubts the courts would even allow the rule to proceed, citing two federal lawsuits seeking to block the regulation.
“We’re actually anticipating the … regulation will be enjoined,” he said to NPR. “And then we’ll have to go from there, as, unfortunately, many times this happens.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed one of those lawsuits against the Trump administration in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, alleging the rule “clearly violates domestic and international law.” Two immigration advocacy organizations filed the second suit, as well as a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
U.S. law allows migrants to request asylum regardless of how they arrive in the country, with the exception of migrants who come through a country the U.S. considers “safe.” Currently, Canada is the only country the U.S. legally recognizes as a “safe third country.”
Morgan was acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement before the White House appointed him to lead the agency currently detaining thousands of migrant children. Morgan led the Border Patrol for the last four months of the Obama administration but lost the position within days of Trump’s inauguration.
On Thursday, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified to the House Oversight Committee that there has been a 28% drop in the number of migrants detained at the southern border in the last month, a statistic the agency originally announced earlier this month. Border officials have been operating under Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which allows the federal government to force asylum-seekers back across the border while they wait for their applications to be processed.
McAleenan also declined to say Thursday whether agents who were in a secret Border Patrol Facebook group, which had offensive images of Democrats and mocked migrants, are still on duty at the border. The DHS chief told Congress that the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the situation and denied there is a culture of dehumanization at the agency.