Trump Considering Travel Ban-Style Order to Bar Migrants, Source Says

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is considering an order to block the entry of migrants at the southern border, using the same authority as its earlier travel ban, a person familiar with the matter said, as thousands of Central Americans make their way toward the U.S.

The action, if implemented, would effectively bar those seeking asylum from entering the country. President Donald Trump is weighing a range of options designed to prevent undocumented migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexican frontier, said a White House official familiar with the discussions. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity as no final decision has been made.

The travel ban, announced shortly after Trump took office in 2017, affected people from seven countries, five of them with Muslim majorities. The executive order now being looked at would deny asylum claims based on national security concerns, and would give broad authority to officials at the border, the person said.

The New York Times reported late Thursday that the administration was considering an order that would bar migrants, including those requesting asylum, who try to enter the country from Mexico, a significant escalation of presidential power on immigration policy.

Midterm Elections

The White House official wouldn’t confirm the Times report and others, saying that several legal, executive and legislative remedies were on the table.

Trump has made undocumented immigration a front-burner issue in the weeks before the midterm congressional elections on Nov. 6. He’s blamed Democrats for the so-called caravan of Central American migrants headed through Mexico after starting off in Honduras.

“Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats,” Trump said Oct. 22 on Twitter, one of three tweets this week referencing the caravan.

Trump also claimed that “unknown Middle Easterners” were blended in with the thousands of Central Americans, but later said that there was no evidence to support that assertion.

The Trump administration plans to send at least 800 additional troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a third person familiar with the deliberations.

The Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security confirmed late Friday plans for U.S. Northern Command to send more troops to the border, without saying how many.

In a joint statement, the departments said soldiers will help with planning, engineering support -- such as “temporary barriers, barricades, and fencing” -- and support for Custom and Border Protection agents including providing them with aircraft, medical teams, temporary housing and protective equipment.

The president has also threatened to cut off U.S. aid to three Central American countries -- Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador -- over the migrants heading toward the U.S.

‘Racism-Driven Cruelty’

The Times article, citing sources it didn’t identify, said that details of the possible executive order were still in the planning stages and that whatever emerged was sure to be met with legal challenges.

Officials at the National Immigration Law Center, which participated in the earlier legal challenge to Trump’s travel ban, said it is prepared to fight a new order if Trump moves ahead. Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the center, said that the White House’s consideration of such action shows that Trump’s “racism-driven cruelty has no bounds.”

“We will use every tool to stop Trump from undermining the Constitution and international laws and from instituting his administration’s agenda to impose a Latin ban in any form,” Hincapie said in a statement.

American Civil Liberties Union immigration rights director Omar Jadwat said it was “disgraceful” that the administration “would even consider what’s being reported.”

‘Moral Failure’

“It would mean refusing to protect people who can prove they are fleeing persecution,” Jadwat said in a statement. “That would be a huge moral failure and any plan along these lines will be subject to intense legal scrutiny.”

But Peter Spiro, an immigration law professor at Temple University, said that courts could uphold the president’s potential actions. In June, a sharply divided Supreme Court upheld Trump’s ban on travel from the seven countries. The restrictions indefinitely bar more than 150 million people from entering the U.S.

“Most experts would agree about the restrictions now being contemplated: they make no sense from a policy perspective,” Spiro said. “But just because a ban on asylum applicants would be stupid and cruel doesn’t mean the Supreme Court would strike it down.”

The troops that Trump is sending to the border would join 2,100 National Guard troops who were previously deployed to perform support duties for Department of Homeland Security personnel.

Trump said on Twitter on Thursday that he was “bringing out the military for this National Emergency” and promised immigrants unlawfully crossing the border “will be stopped!”

Cutting aid to the Central American countries is complicated. Much of the money for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras was appropriated by Congress in the form of anti-corruption and good-governance programs. Those initiatives have broad support from lawmakers, who’ve already promised to put up a fight should Trump try to make good on his threat.

The migrants began crossing into southern Mexico on Oct. 20, avoiding that country’s migration authorities and federal police by jumping off the border bridge crossing the Suchiate River, or by crossing the river in improvised rafts made of tires and boards, according to images from El Financiero Bloomberg TV.

Under standard U.S. procedures, the migrants, assuming they reached and attempted to cross the U.S. border, would be detained for not having the required documents, and asked whether they’re afraid of returning to their home.

A person who answered “no” would not be admitted into the U.S. One who expressed fear of persecution or torture would be interviewed by an asylum officer to establish whether there is credible fear of persecution.

Michael J. Bars, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in an email that the “extremely low bar” for establishing credible fear allows economic migrants to abuse the system by posing as asylum seekers, then disappear before their court dates to live illegally in the U.S.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.