Immigration

Miami Republican urges Trump administration to reconsider asylum rule changes

About 600 Cubans and 120 other migrants in Panama for “freedom caravan” to the U.S.

A "freedom caravan" of about 600 Cubans and about 120 other migrants was in Panama in February 2019 in hopes of reaching the United States to ask for asylum.
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A "freedom caravan" of about 600 Cubans and about 120 other migrants was in Panama in February 2019 in hopes of reaching the United States to ask for asylum.

Miami’s lone House Republican is asking the Trump administration to reconsider new asylum rule changes that make it harder for Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans fleeing left-leaning governments to enter the United States.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents one of the largest concentrations of Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans of any member of Congress, sent a letter to the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security on Friday, three days after the Trump administration formally published a rule that changes the eligibility requirements for asylum claims.

“As hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking U.S. entry this year has shown, the asylum process is in dire need of reform, with some abusing the system which has led to long waiting lists,” Diaz-Balart wrote. “I am concerned that the final interim rule...will impose an overly burdensome obstacle on those with bona fide asylum claims escaping totalitarian dictatorships. For this reason, I respectfully request reconsideration of this rule.”

The letter comes as immigrant groups mount legal challenges to the rule change that would require immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to first seek asylum in Mexico or a third country through which they’ve passed. Asylum seekers can only ask for safe harbor in the U.S. only after they’ve been rejected elsewhere, with a few exceptions.

The Trump administration says the rule change is necessary in response to an influx of asylum claims at the southern border.

“The abysmal human rights conditions in countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, which have forced so many to flee, lends to the likely legitimacy of their asylum claims,” Diaz-Balart wrote. “As situations in these countries continue to deteriorate, the needs of asylum seekers become only more urgent and more necessary.”

Diaz-Balart’s congressional district is ground zero for the Trump campaign’s reelection efforts in Florida. As part of an effort to build a winning 2020 coalition, Trump has positioned himself as a champion for Cuban and Venezuelans living in South Florida.

But his recent immigration moves could erode support among Cubans in the U.S. who are waiting to reunite with family in Cuba.

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott said it’s up to Congress to change asylum laws and that the Trump administration is trying to help an overwhelmed immigration system.

“I’m a supporter of asylum, I just think the system now is being used in a way that’s unsustainable,” Rubio said.

Rubio also cited the Cuban Adjustment Act as a way for Cubans to seek permanent status if they enter the immigration system and stay in the country for at least a year. But Cubans have been detained at the border before they can enter the country under the Trump administration.

In the last fiscal year, the U.S. deported 463 Cubans and 336 Venezuelans.

Diaz-Balart noted that pro-democracy activists from Cuba are among those detained at the border, a situation that is unacceptable in his opinion. South Florida Democrats are united in their opposition to the asylum rule change.

“We must not inordinately burden the lifeline of asylum for those who seek freedom from brutal dictatorships,” Diaz-Balart wrote.

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