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Trump Administration Moves to Limit Asylum; ACLU Sues

President Donald Trump talks with reporters before departing for France on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Nov. 9, 20

The Trump administration issued an order Friday to restrict asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico by requiring that anyone who enters the U.S. illegally will not be eligible to request asylum.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other legal groups filed a lawsuit Friday afternoon against the administration in federal court in Northern California to block the regulations, arguing the measures were clearly illegal.

"We need people in our country but they have to come in legally and they have to have merit," Trump said Friday as he prepared to depart for Paris.

Administration officials say the measures are in effect for at least three months, but could be extended. They go into effect Saturday and don't affect people who are already in the country.

The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) said the president has the authority to restrict eligibility for asylum and can do so by proclamation.

The administration is using a section of the Immigration act to justify its action.

Section 212(f) says that whenever the president deems the entry of immigrants “detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”

Section 212(f) is the same law used by the Trump administration to justify its ban on travel to mostly Muslim countries.

“If they in fact make that rule change, then we at ACLU, along with other organizations, are ready to be in the federal court to immediately challenge that,” American Civil Liberties Union of Texas Policy Counsel Shaw Drake told VOA.

Drake sees the move as an attempt to stop a caravan of migrants heading up through Mexico to the U.S. border.

The caravan has been a focus of Trump, who has called it an “invasion” and an “emergency.” Trump cited the caravan and its purported threat often during the run-up to Tuesday’s election.

“Anyone traveling in the caravan should not be treated any differently than any other asylum-seekers seeking protection in the U.S.,” Drake said. “Again, there’s a legal process for people to go through and Customs and Border Patrol and all government agencies are required to follow the law no matter whether or not the person is deemed to travel as part of the caravan or not.”

Calling the situation at the border “by any definition, a full-fledged and very large crisis,” administration officials said that funneling asylum cases through ports of entry would make them easier to deal with since there are more resources there.