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Trump’s border ‘compromise’ could ban asylum for many migrant children

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The immigration deal that President Donald Trump hailed as a “common-sense compromise” actually imposes severe immigration restrictions, and could see scores of migrant children deported from the US without the chance to ask for asylum, according to experts and immigration advocates.

In an address from the White House on Saturday, Trump offered Democrats a deal that would exchange the $5.7 billion he has demanded in border-wall funding with three more years of protections for so-called “Dreamers” and 300,000 other immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Congressional Democrats immediately dismissed the offer, arguing that Trump himself was responsible for jeopardizing the status of both classes of immigrants.

He terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shielded young unauthorized immigrants from deportation, and rescinded TPS protections for hundreds of thousands of TPS holders from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

But a lesser-discussed angle of Trump’s deal was a proposed overhaul of the US asylum system, which would require that Central American children apply for US asylum in their home countries, and included provisions that would effectively ban Central American children from seeking asylum if they arrive at the US border unaccompanied.

Read more: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE BORDER CRISIS: Experts say there is no security crisis, but there is a simple way to fix immigration — and it’s not a wall

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, told INSIDER Trump pitched the deal as a “compromise” that combined measures Democrats wanted with the enforcement changed the president seeks.

“Instead what we got was essentially Stephen Miller’s dream: a bill that massively restricts asylum for Central American children, limits asylum for everyone else, and increases detention and provides no permanent status for those with DACA and TPS.”

Miller is Trump’s senior adviser, and the best-known immigration hardliner remaining in the White House. Critics have credited him for tanking a February 2018 deal between Trump and Democrats on $25 billion in border-wall funding, which Miller reportedly disliked because it didn’t include enough cuts to legal immigration.

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senate Republicans released the text of the proposed deal legislation Monday evening, explaining that the asylum provisions were meant to “address the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied alien children” by requiring them to apply for asylum in their home countries rather than at the US-Mexico border, as they do currently.

The change, according to the bill, “reduces the incentive for such persons to make the dangerous journey to the United States southern border to request asylum.”

Republicans added in a statement that in order for “the new procedure to achieve the desired humanitarian result,” the bill needed to also “ensure the proper return of those who circumvent the process by coming to the United States without authorization.”

A ‘wish list of anti-immigrant provisions’

Though much of the nation’s attention has focused on the record numbers of migrant families crossing the US-Mexico border, more than 50,000 unaccompanied migrant children were arrested in fiscal year 2018, and more than 10,000 have already been arrested in early 2019, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

Under Trump and Senate Republicans’ proposal, nearly all unaccompanied children who arrive at the US border seeking asylum would be immediately deported back to their home countries, unless they qualified for certain lesser-known humanitarian protections like the Convention Against Torture.

A migrant from Honduras passes a child to her father after he jumped the border fence to get into the US side from Tijuana, Mexico on Jan. 3, 2019.
Associated Press/Daniel Ochoa de Olza

Read more: Trump’s ‘common-sense compromise’ on immigration to end the government shutdown isn’t a compromise at all, critics say

The American Civil Liberties Union was among the many immigration advocacy groups that seized on the bill’s text, calling it a “sham ‘compromise'” that would “weaken the asylum system.”

“In addition to providing $5.7 billion for a border wall and record funding to jail an unprecedented 52,000 immigrants per day, it includes Stephen Miller’s wish list of anti-immigrant provisions,” the ACLU’s deputy political director, Lorella Praeli, told INSIDER in a statement.

If the goal was to actually reopen the government, the bill contained an alarming number of “poison pills” that were certain to tank a deal with Democrats — particularly its provision to add a cap on asylum applications, allowing no more than 50,000 Central American children to apply for asylum each year and no more than 15,000 of those applications to be granted.

In context, tens of thousands of Central American children apply for asylum each year, including those who arrive unaccompanied and those who come as part of families.

Such a cap would upend the current asylum system and likely present challenges for the children fleeing violence or danger in their home countries, Reichlin-Melnick said.

Honduran migrant women and children walk away from the US border wall after failing to cross over it from Playas, Mexico to San Diego, California on Dec. 12, 2018.
Associated Press/Moises Castillo

“Even if you are at risk of being murdered immediately, the law provides that you would have to wait until the following year in order to ask for protection,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “The entire principle of asylum is that it’s only eligible for those who are unsafe in their countries and flee to the United States. This requires you to stay in your country, or stay in Central America, a location that’s fairly unstable, throughout the entirety of the asylum process.”

Though Congressional Democrats appear unlikely to back the bill, and spent much of the weekend bashing it as a non-starter, Republicans appeared ready to plow ahead with the bill regardless.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that the bill was “the only thing on the table,” and that he’d bring it to a vote on Thursday.

“The President has made a comprehensive and bipartisan offer that would accomplish everything Democrats have said needs to be accomplished right now,” he said. “It’s a strong proposal.”

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