The Trump administration announced a regulation Monday aimed at trying to deny some migrants the chance to claim asylum in the U.S. if they have crossed other countries to get here.

The move is an executive branch power play. The administration is frustrated at the lack of action in Congress and says it will take steps on its own to change the incentives pulling migrants north.

In particular, the policy is intended to change the thinking of Central Americans eyeing the trip to make asylum claims — most of them unfounded — in an attempt to game U.S. laws to gain a foothold in the country and then disappear into the shadows.

Under the change, the migrants would be denied a chance at asylum if, after they left their home countries, they crossed another country that could provide protections from persecution or torture.

“Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States and enable DHS and DOJ to more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border,” said acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.

Asylum is the protection offered to migrants fleeing persecution who reach American soil. It is similar to the refugee system, although U.S. law requires refugees to apply outside the country.

The U.S. has long had an agreement with Canada dealing with asylum seekers. Anyone from a third country who enters Canada and then travels to the U.S. to seek asylum can be returned to Canada, and vice versa.

Trump administration officials tried to strike such an agreement with Mexico during negotiations last month, but Mexican authorities resisted.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters Monday that his country “does not agree with any measure that limits access to asylum” and that Mexico’s asylum system is dealing with a backlog.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales was scheduled to meet with President Trump in Washington on Monday, but his trip was canceled amid a court challenge over whether Guatemala could make a “safe third country” agreement with the U.S.

The new rule, scheduled to take effect Tuesday, will apply chiefly to migrants who travel through Central America and Mexico to reach the U.S. Unless migrants have applied for protections in one of the countries through which they have traveled to reach the U.S., they will be ineligible for asylum in the U.S., the rule says. The rule also applies to unaccompanied minors.

The migrants could seek other protections such as a deferral of deportation.

Trafficking victims and those who apply for protections in other countries but are denied could apply for U.S. asylum despite the new rules.

The rule is certain to be challenged in court, just as the rest of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies have been.

Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, called the move “blatantly illegal.”

He said the only way to refuse asylum seekers is if the U.S. has signed a “safe third country” agreement like the one it has with Canada. He also said Mexico, despite its protestations, isn’t a “safe” country.

The American Civil Liberties Union vowed to file a lawsuit “swiftly.”

“This is yet another move to turn refugees with well-founded fears of persecution back to places where their lives are in danger. In fact, the rule would deny asylum to refugees who do not apply for asylum in countries where they are in peril,” said Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First.

Administration officials, in the rule, said they were flexing part of immigration law that gives the attorney general and Homeland Security secretary powers to add “any other conditions or limitations” to asylum applicants that are deemed necessary and consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Attorney General William Barr insisted that the move was legal and needed.

“This rule will decrease forum shopping by economic migrants and those who seek to exploit our asylum system to obtain entry to the United States — while ensuring that no one is removed from the United States who is more likely than not to be tortured or persecuted on account of a protected ground,” he said.

Border Patrol agents who interview migrants say the Central Americans, who make up the bulk of the migration border crisis, are generally coming for economic or family migration reasons, not persecution or violence.

They cross Mexico to reunite with family in the U.S. or to get better jobs.

Academic studies say they do not want to remain in Mexico, so a policy requiring them to first apply for protections from Mexican officials could, in theory, discourage some of the migrants.

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