Conservative media cheer the Trump administration’s lawless effort to end asylum for Central Americans

President Trump blocks passage to Statue of Liberty
Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Conservative media and many Fox News personalities expressed support for the Trump administration's issuance of an interim rule that would effectively prevent nearly all people from Central America from claiming asylum in the United States -- a move legal experts have decried as illegal.

“The Trump administration on Monday moved to end asylum protections for most Central American migrants in a major escalation of the president’s battle to tamp down the number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border,” The Associated Press reported on July 15. With few exceptions under the new rule, asylum-seekers would be ineligible to apply in the United States if they cross through another country before reaching the U.S.

Multiple legal experts have told news outlets that Trump’s action is not legal, since the country’s current asylum law allows seekers to claim asylum regardless of how they entered the United States. One exception to this rule is if the claimants pass through a country determined to be “safe” en route to the United States -- and the U.S. considers only Canada a “safe” country. Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Quartz that Trump’s asylum rule change “is patently unlawful” and promised the organization will sue the administration. Georgetown University law professor Philip Schrag also told Quartz that Trump’s action “is an end run around the Congressional requirement for a formal agreement” with a so-called “safe third country” for asylum-seekers to apply in instead of the United States. Stephen H. Legomsky, former chief counsel for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, also said Trump’s move violates existing asylum laws. Human Rights First’s director for refugee protection, Eleanor Acer, told The Guardian, “This new rule is dangerous, disgraceful and blatantly illegal.” Keren Zwick of the National Immigrant Justice Center similarly said, “This rule will be challenged because it is contrary to the asylum statute and to US obligations to refugees under international law.”

Gelernt also explained to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that the Trump administration’s move “would effectively end asylum.” From the July 15 edition of The Rachel Maddow Show:

LEE GELERNT (ACLU DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF IMMIGRANTS’ RIGHTS PROJECT): They’re basically cancelling asylum now. This would effectively end asylum at the southern border. What they’re saying is if you’ve come through any other country -- any other country -- you can’t apply for asylum. 

GELERNT: This would end asylum. And I think people need to understand, it's not just the illegality of it. It’s so incompatible with our values. After World War II, the nations of the world came together and said, “Never again are we not going to provide protection for those fleeing persecution.” Congress said we want to enact domestic laws to comply with that. People need to remember the history. Right now, it's Central Americans who are desperate for a safe haven, but it’s been other groups in the past. And I think it's important that people not say, "Well, we don't care about asylum.” Because if they ask their grandparents or their great-grandparents and go back into the history, they’ll see that other groups needed asylum. And if we eliminate asylum now for Central Americans, it's eliminated for everyone.

Many in conservative media supported the rule change by suggesting that migrants are abusing US asylum laws 

Fox Business host Melissa Francis said the Trump administration is “trying to stop the lying” in asylum applications with this change. But in reality, the vast majority of asylum-seekers pass the current “credible fear” screening process.

Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren: “Tightening the rules for asylum-seekers allows legitimate asylum claims to be processed faster. Good for [Trump] for refusing to kowtow to the keyboard warriors and manufactured outrage crybabies! #AmericaFirst.”

CNN conservative commentator Steve Cortes on asylum rule changes: “Yes please. Our asylum generosity is being massively abused by economic migrants.”

Conservative blog HotAir: “The change is long overdue and returns the policy of asylum to its original intent.” The post continued its support for the change, claiming that “the Trump administration is making a logical choice to remove the incentives for illegal immigration. ... Now they want to end the draw for the caravans — the asylum policy and practices that makes border enforcement a sieve.”

TheBlaze: “Trump admin's new asylum regs aim to make it harder to manipulate America's immigration system.”

The Daily Wire: “BREAKING: Trump Admin Announces Major Crackdown On Asylum Abuse.”

Other conservative media figures claimed that cutting off asylum access for Central Americans fleeing violence will actually make them safer

Fox contributor Katie Pavlich said Trump’s asylum rule change would make “people who have legitimate asylum claims” safer as it would allow them to apply for asylum in the first country they reach. In fact, there are multiple news stories reporting that asylum-seekers forced to remain in Mexico have been victims of violence, kidnappings, and murders.

Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham: Trump’s asylum change “will save lives down the road.”

And some conservatives resorted to pushing misinformation to justify Trump’s asylum restrictions

Fox analyst Greg Jarrett tried to justify the asylum rule change by falsely saying that many asylum-seekers don’t appear for their court dates and just “vanish.” In reality, asylum-seekers have a high rate of court attendance.

Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz said that Trump’s new rule “is the right policy” and encouraged asylum-seekers to apply at American embassies and consulates instead -- a process which does not exist.

Wall Street Journal columnist Mary O’Grady supported Trump’s restriction on asylum, saying that the way current asylum laws are “set up right now -- that [the immigrants] just sort of bumrush the border -- we cannot manage this volume of people.” O’Grady failed to mention that many asylum-seekers say they are fleeing violence and that the Trump administration’s own policies have created dangerously overcrowded conditions at border detention centers, instead saying, “If there’s any cruelty that’s going on, it’s waving this idea of asylum in front of Central Americans.”

A Fox guest claimed that the “​horrific image of a dad trying to swim across with his little girl” -- both of whom had died -- illustrated the problem with U.S. asylum laws. But the man reportedly risked crossing a river to enter the country because they were being held in a camp in Mexico and couldn’t access the border to claim asylum, which has been linked to Trump’s policies to limit claims of asylum from Central Americans.