The White House is weighing an executive action and regulatory change to block a caravan of Central American migrants from entering the United States, according to a DHS official, an administration official and three people familiar with the move.
Under the plan, the Trump administration would publish fast-track regulation that would restrict certain migrants’ ability to seek asylum. The regulation would be paired with a related proclamation from President Donald Trump.
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The executive actions would follow the playbook of Trump’s most sensational immigration moves and test the bounds of public approval and legality, according to those familiar with it. Trump has fumed publicly and privately in recent days about a caravan of migrants traveling north through Mexico and challenged aides to find a solution.
The intense focus on immigration comes less than two weeks before the midterm elections. Democrats are favored to regain control of the House, but Republicans hope to retain competitive seats by digging in on a core issue.
“The administration is considering a wide range of administrative, legal and legislative options to address the Democrat-created crisis of mass illegal immigration,” a White House official said. “No decisions have been made at this time. Nor will we forecast to smugglers or caravans what precise strategies will or will not be deployed.”
While the Trump administration has framed the flow of migrants at the border as an emergency, the overall tally of arrests in fiscal year 2018 remained below the yearly average under President Barack Obama. The arrest totals are far below the high levels of the 1990s and early 2000s. The Senate tried to pass immigration legislation this year, but the White House rejected multiple bipartisan proposals.
However, the number of family members arriving at the border have reached record highs. The trend is spurred by violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as the ability of asylum seekers to remain in the U.S. pending the outcome of their case.
Kerri Talbot, director of the D.C.-based Immigration Hub, said the plan to block certain asylum seekers is a play to Trump’s base. “He’s trying to distract voters from core issues like health care,” she said.
The DHS official briefed on the moves warned that the administration could abandon the plan or adjust it before moving forward.
The actions appear to lean on the same statute behind Trump’s travel ban, according to those familiar with it. The statute states that the president can suspend entry of foreigners deemed “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the third version of the travel ban in June. In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled the president has vast powers in the realm of national security.
“I think the courts respected a thorough national security review that was undertaken,” said the DHS official. “Here you’ve got something that appears to be completely political and focused on a caravan of women and children.”
The interim final rule would mirror language in a more comprehensive proposed regulation slated for publication in December, according to the official and another person familiar with it.
The broader regulation would give Trump the power to issue a proclamation to block certain groups of migrants from seeking asylum, according to draft language reviewed by POLITICO.
“The bar on asylum would apply to proclamations issued on or after the effective date of the final rule,” the draft read.
Eleanor Acer, a director with the pro-immigrant Human Rights First, said in a written statement that the plan amounted to a “Latino ban” and would not be judged constitutional in court.
“Any attempt to block from the United States the vulnerable men, women, and children who come here seeking safety is a shameful new low for this administration,” she said.