The Department of Homeland Security, in a statement issued on Monday with the Department of Justice, said the policy would set a “new bar” for asylum seekers “by placing further restrictions or limitations on eligibility for aliens who seek asylum in the United States.”
The Trump administration's new policy is set to take effect on Tuesday (July 16).
The new measure shifts the initial step of the asylum process to impoverished countries like Mexico and Guatemala, requiring them to start the process.
The new policy, which bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the US southern border, literally puts the responsibility on lesser equipped countries.
The United Nations and human rights organizations have voiced concern about the move, questioning the legality of the policy.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was “deeply concerned” about the new policy, saying it would “put vulnerable families at risk” and undermine international efforts to find a coordinated solution.
Rights groups said they would take legal action against it. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the new policy as being “patently unlawful”.
“The interim regulation violates the clear language of the law in several respects,” Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel of US Citizenship and Immigration Services told media.
Lawyers and rights activists say neither Mexico nor Guatemala have the capacity to process large numbers of asylum claims or provide safe harbor for the immigrants.
The Trump administration complains the influx of immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has overwhelmed US immigration officials, adding that they do not have the capacity to process the many asylum claims.
US Attorney General William Barr has described the majority of asylum claims as “meritless”, rejecting the asylum seekers' claims of fleeing from poverty, gang violence and domestic abuse.
Enrique Valenzuela, head of COESPO, the state population commission which oversees the center for migrants in Ciudad Juarez, said he had no prior knowledge of the new US measure, having learned about it on television.
The number of people adding themselves to the asylum list in Ciudad Juarez had been dropping this month and last, he said.
But if the new policy holds, he said, "The number of (asylum) applicants will rocket in Mexico."
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcel Ebrard said the new US policy would not unilaterally transform Mexico into a designated “safe third country”, adding that the rejected immigrants should have to go back to their home countries, not to Mexico.
In January Trump required many asylum-seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico, known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy or the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), with nearly 20,000 people sent back so far.
It is not known yet how the new policy would change the MPP.