May 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden takes another step to fast-track asylum process for border crossers

Migrants line up to be transported by Border Patrol after waiting in a makeshift camp near the I-8 freeway, after crossing the border through rocky, mountainous terrain.

Migrants line up to be transported by Border Patrol after waiting in a makeshift camp. Photo: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Biden administration is launching Thursday a new, fast-tracked asylum system for people who have recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and are headed to any one of five major cities in the U.S.

Why it matters: It's the latest in what's expected to be a series of moves by the White House and congressional Democrats on the border, which has become one of their most vulnerable issues in the 2024 election cycle.

  • "This announcement is not happening in isolation," one senior administration official told reporters on Thursday afternoon.
  • "It is part of our ongoing and sustained effort to continue to strengthen the consequences that are in place at the border for individuals who cross unlawfully and do not establish a legal basis to remain in the United States."

Zoom in: Homeland Security and the Justice Department are creating a new expedited docket for people who have recently crossed the border, which could allow officials to more quickly reject and deport some people who are not able to prove sufficient fear of persecution in their home country.

  • Immigration judges will aim to decide these asylum cases within 180 days. The current asylum process can take years.
  • Single adults who illegally cross the border and who are headed the top destination cities of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles could be placed in this fast-tracked docket.
  • It's unclear how many asylum seekers would be immediately impacted by the new docket, which will initially involve 10 immigration judges.

Zoom out: The new docket follows the announcement of a new rule that would more quickly reject some migrants from asylum if they are considered a public safety or national security threat.

  • The administration has also announced new visa restrictions for Colombians and Nicaraguans, in an attempt to target people who profit from migrant smuggling.
  • The White House has also been readying even more aggressive actions on the border, including using a part of U.S. code called 212f to block asylum seekers when border numbers spike.

By the numbers: The new action comes despite months of steady or declining border numbers following a sharp drop at the start of the year.

  • This is despite illegal border crossings usually beginning to tick up this time of year.
  • There were roughly 129,000 illegal border crossings last month, according to new government data — markedly down from a record 222,000 in December.
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