President Donald Trump has signed an immigration proclamation that would help effectively ban migrants who cross the US border with Mexico illegally from qualifying for asylum.
Trump is invoking extraordinary national security powers, the same powers he used to push through a version of the travel ban that was upheld by the Supreme Court.
The proclamation puts into place regulations adopted on Thursday that circumvent laws stating that anyone is eligible for asylum no matter how he or she enters the country.
'We need people in our country but they have to come in legally and they have to have merit,' Trump said on Friday as he prepared to depart for Paris.
The measures are meant to funnel asylum seekers through official border crossings for speedy rulings, officials said, instead of having them try to circumvent such crossings on the nearly 3200-kilometre border.
But the busy ports of entry already have long lines and waits, forcing immigration officials to tell some migrants to turn around and come back to make their claims.
The move was spurred in part by caravans of Central American migrants slowly moving north on foot but will apply to anyone caught crossing illegally, officials said Thursday. It's unknown whether those in the caravan, many fleeing violence in their homeland, plan to cross illegally.
Administration officials said those denied asylum under the proclamation may be eligible for similar forms of protection if they fear returning to their countries, though they would be subject to a tougher threshold.
Those forms of protection include 'withholding of removal' - which is similar to asylum, but doesn't allow for green cards or bringing families - or asylum under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
The announcement was the latest push to enforce Trump's hardline stance on immigration through regulatory changes and presidential orders, bypassing congress. But those efforts have been largely thwarted by legal challenges and, in the case of family separations this year, stymied by a global outcry that prompted Trump to scrap them.
The new changes were likely to be met with legal challenges, too.
Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, said they were clearly illegal.
'US law specifically allows individuals to apply for asylum whether or not they are at a port of entry. It is illegal to circumvent that by agency or presidential decree,' he said.