Mar 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Administration moves to overhaul asylum system at the southern border

An asylum seeker from Mexico (R) waits outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry, which he hopes to cross to plead for asylum in the U.S.
An asylum seeker from Mexico waits outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are pushing through a new rule to overhaul and expedite the asylum process at the southern border and aim to alleviate the immigration court backlog, which has climbed to 1.7 million cases.

Why it matters: The rule will likely go into effect as soon as late May. The announcement comes as officials prepare for the lifting of COVID-19 border policies as soon as next month and anticipate a "mass migration event."

  • The regulation "will help reduce the burden on our immigration courts, protect the rights of those fleeing persecution and violence, and enable immigration judges to issue removal orders when appropriate," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

The details: The rule has been in the works for months, and will have asylum officers from DHS's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handle asylum cases at the southwest border rather than relying only on immigration judges.

  • The rule will apply to migrants who attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and are placed in a fast-tracked deportation process called expedited removal.
  • They will be referred to a USCIS asylum officer who will determine whether the migrant has credible reason to fear returning to their home country — the first step in the asylum process.

If approved, DHS can refer migrants to have their full asylum petition decided by an asylum officer, rather than an immigration judge. The officer will then determine whether the person, if deported, could be persecuted because of their race, nationality, politics, religion or membership in a social group.

  • If a migrant's credible fear claim or asylum application is denied by an asylum officer, they will be able to ask an immigration judge to review the decision.
  • The goal is for the full USCIS process to take no more than 90 days. For cases that end up before immigration judges, the administration aims for them to reach a final decision in 90 days, as well, USCIS and Executive Office for Immigration Review officials told reporters.
  • Currently, it can take years for a final decision on an asylum claim.

"The current system for handling asylum claims at our borders has long needed repair," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

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