Mark Morgan, acting head of Customs and Border Protection, said Thursday that the Trump administration's new asylum rule, unveiled earlier this week, is being rolled out as a small "pilot" and that officials expect it to be blocked in court.
The rule is a major change in U.S. asylum law. It denies asylum protection to most migrants arriving at the Southern border unless they first apply in a country they passed through on the way.
"Although the new federal regulation allows us to apply that all 2,000 miles along the Southwest border, we're not going to do that. We're really piloting it in just one location," Morgan said during an interview on All Things Considered.
"That location is briefed, and they know what to do and how to do that now," he added.
Morgan said the rule is only being applied in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas at two CBP stations. "It's very limited," he said.
Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union's national Immigrants' Rights Project said the administration hadn't presented the rule as short term.
"The notice does not contain that limitation, and the government has never previously mentioned that, even in a call with the judge today. It may be that the government is backtracking given the plain illegality of the rule. But whether it applies across the southern border or only in two places, it will cause serious harm and we will continue to challenge the new rule."
Morgan said he doesn't expect the controversial policy to be in place for long.
"We're actually anticipating the ... regulation will be enjoined. And then we'll have to go from there, as unfortunately, many times, this happens," Morgan said, referring to two federal lawsuits that have been filed in California and Washington, D.C.
Morgan, who has been on the job for two weeks after spending just a month as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also remarked on an internal investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility into a secret Border Patrol Facebook group that circulated obscene images of Democrats in Congress and ridiculed people who have crossed the border illegally. "It was horrendous," he said.
"Some of the images that were out there, absolutely horrendous, wrong and not consistent with the way CBP, or specifically, Border Patrol conducts themselves."
"We're going to hold these people responsible," Morgan said, adding that offenders could face criminal charges.
"I don't know whether the actions will satisfy any of the elements of criminal charges, but that has been talked about just to show how serious we're taking that," Morgan said.
Nearly all high-level immigration officials at the Department of Homeland Security are serving in an acting capacity. Morgan acknowledged "that any time you have turnover, there is some impact."
But he said it doesn't matter. "We do the same job, we have the same authority, same responsibilities whether acting is in front of our name or not. I don't wake up the morning changing anything I do because I have 'acting' in front of my name," he said.
On Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified to Congress that there has been a 28% drop in the number of migrants taken into custody at the Southern border in the last month.
Morgan credited Mexico for helping to slow the flow of migrants. "The support that they've shown now in the recent couple of weeks is unprecedented. And we're seeing it there. They're ... tightening up their Southern border. They're sending more troops to the U.S. Mexico border. And it's definitely having an impact."
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