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Trump administration proposes sweeping asylum restrictions

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed sweeping — though somewhat vague — restrictions on asylum, seeking to align a legal framework with the president's efforts to limit immigration to the United States.

The moves are only the latest in a series of measures that Trump has taken to limit asylum — this time aimed at changing complicated procedures governing immigration courts.

The Justice and Homeland Security departments said asylum-seekers who clear initial screenings will have claims heard by an immigration judge in “streamlined proceedings,” replacing longstanding rules in immigration law. They did not elaborate in a brief press release.

The rules also will allow judges to dismiss cases without court hearings if supporting evidence is determined to be too weak. They will define when a claim may be declared “frivolous” and raise the threshold for initial screenings under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The administration will propose new definitions for some ways people qualify for asylum, specifically “political opinion” and membership in a "particular social group.”

Asylum is for people who face persecution for their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group, a loose category that may include victims of gang or domestic violence. Narrowing those ways to qualify would mean more rejected claims.

The administration said the changes would bring more efficiency to an immigration court system with a backlog of more than 1.1 million cases.

The rules will “more effectively separate baseless claims from meritorious ones,” the departments said. “This would better ensure groundless claims do not delay or divert resources from deserving claims.”

Details will be published in the Federal Register with time for public comment before they take effect. Lawsuits may delay or derail the effort.

The administration effectively put asylum out of reach for many people at the Canadian and Mexican borders in March under a 1944 public health law aimed at preventing spread of the coronavirus. The move, intended to be temporary, allowed the government to immediately expel people from Mexico and Central America to Mexico before they make an asylum claim.

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