The Supreme Court’s order Wednesday allowing new asylum restrictions to go into effect marks a significant win for President Donald Trump, who’s faced several legal challenges in his attempt to implement a hard-line immigration agenda – and could embolden him on other related issues, such as the upcoming refugee ceiling.
The administration has rolled out policies aiming to curb the flow of migrants coming to the US-Mexico border following a steep uptick in border arrests in recent months. Wednesday’s decision allows the administration to move forward with a rule that limits asylum for some and in effect, send thousands of Central American migrants back to Mexico to apply for asylum.
Less than 24 hours after the Supreme Court’s order, acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli reflected on the slew of lawsuits that have challenged the administration’s policies during an interview with Axios’ Mike Allen Thursday morning, saying that it’s “sort of a joke in the office” when a policy will get sued following its rollout.
When pressed by Allen on why the administration pushes forward policies it knows it’ll get sued for, Cuccinelli quipped, “because we’re right.”
“One, we’re implementing the President’s policies. He’s made it very clear from day one, frankly before day one, when he was campaigning, that he intended to be forceful and aggressive in this space from a policy standpoint,” Cuccinelli said.
Over the course of the year, the Department of Homeland Security has moved to expand the so-called “remain in Mexico” policy that requires some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings. That program is also being challenged in court but has been allowed to remain in effect for now.
The Supreme Court’s order Wednesday was related to a rule, from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, prohibiting migrants who have resided in or traveled through third countries from seeking asylum in the US, therefore barring people traveling through Mexico from being able to claim asylum.
Taken together, the administration is in a position to limit a wide swath of migrants from claiming asylum in the United States given that the overwhelming majority of apprehensions are of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. So far this fiscal year, the Border Patrol has arrested 419,831 families from those countries, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Only 4,312 families were from Mexico.
Immigrant advocacy groups have warned that sending Central American migrants back to Mexico puts them in harm’s way. But the administration has countered that the number of arrivals has strained the system.
Cuccinelli suggested in an interview with CNN Thursday that the Supreme Court’s order will allow his agency, USCIS, to attend to other humanitarian matters, like the processing of refugees.
“All the same people have to do that work,” Cuccinelli said, referring to officers that work on asylum and refugee cases. “These things do affect one another. I haven’t even been back to the office yet since the Supreme Court ruling, so how that may affect our analysis is yet undetermined. But I can tell you we’re not at a final point but I don’t know how close we are. That’s done at a level above my pay grade.”
Cuccinelli cited Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks last year in announcing the fiscal year 2019 refugee cap of 30,000 as an example of the administration taking a “comprehensive” approach.
At the time, Pompeo said the number – the lowest level since 1980 – should not be considered as “the sole barometer” of the United States’ commitment to humanitarian efforts around the world, adding that the US would “focus on the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country.”
“I fully expect us to look at this on a comprehensive basis again this year,” Cuccinelli said Thursday.
Earlier this week, former national security adviser John Bolton headed a high-level meeting on the topic of refugees, according to a source familiar with the matter. The meeting, known as a principals committee meeting, ended only an hour before the President’s tweet announcing Bolton’s resignation. It’s unclear what the outcome of the meeting was.
For now, at least, the administration appears on track to follow through on its agenda as it relates to asylum, leaving thousands of migrants at the southern border to seek refuge elsewhere for the time being.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.