NEW YORK    -     The Trump administration on Monday unveiled a new rule to bar almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the southern border, requiring them to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they had traveled on the way to the United States. Justice, said the rule would set a “new bar” for immigrants “by placing further restrictions or limitations on eligibility for aliens who seek asylum in the United States.” The American Civil Liberties Union called the new rule “patently unlawful” and vowed to file a lawsuit against it, while a host of experts also questioned its legality. “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 Reuters in an email.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it was “deeply concerned” about the measure, saying it would “put vulnerable families at risk” and undermine international efforts to find a coordinated solution. Designated an “interim final rule,” the measure goes into effect on Tuesday, potentially shifting the burden onto poorly equipped countries like Mexico and Guatemala to process asylum claims. The rule would make it all but impossible for asylum-seekers to gain legal entry to the United States unless they first apply for asylum in a “third country.”

The proposed changes represent the latest effort by the Trump administration to crack down on immigration, the signature issue that helped propel Trump to the White House in the 2016 election and one already figuring prominently in the 2020 campaign.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Trump administration had overreached its authority and violated the law.

“The President is devastating lives, dishonoring our values and departing from decades of precedent and law in his haste to destroy the lifeline of asylum in America,” Pelosi said in a statement.