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Rep. Veronica Escobar. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Two border-district Democrats in Congress are pressing the Biden administration to revamp the asylum process, saying the current migrant surge is highlighting significant flaws in the system.

Why it matters: These lawmakers say the administration needs to start making concrete changes by summer. "If it's this bad in 90 days, it's hard to have excuses," Rep. Vicente Gonzalez told Axios.

Driving the news: Axios met with Gonzalez and Rep. Veronica Escobar last week in their Texas districts, which include the border cities of McAllen and El Paso.

  • Both said better asylum systems and new pathways for Central American migrants can reduce future surges while ensuring humanitarian protections.
  • Migrants must reach the U.S. to claim asylum. They must then prove they have faced — or have "a well-founded fear" — of persecution back home.
  • The claims typically are heard by immigration judges, but the Trump administration made it more difficult to seek asylum in the U.S.

Details: Escobar supports a plan — originally floated by the Migration Policy Institute's Doris Meissner — for immigration officers to adjudicate asylum claims at the border, rather than through backlogged immigration courts.

  • The result would be faster asylum grants.
  • The Biden administration is considering such a plan, a person familiar with a draft plan for regulations told Axios, and NPR also has reported.
  • Escobar said asylum seekers still would need to be able to appeal negative decisions to the immigration courts — and that she'll push for better access to legal counsel for them.

Gonzalez is promoting setting up "safe zones" in southern Mexico or Guatemala.

  • They would be guarded centers where people could stay safely while their claims are processed by U.S. officials.

The big picture: Both lawmakers say their constituents play unique roles in shaping the immigration debate because of how it impacts their everyday lives at the border.

  • Escobar said she's asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for more resources — including more COVID-19 vaccine doses for her district, given El Paso's exposure at the border.
  • It's a "predominantly economically disadvantaged community that needs every resource it can have," she said.
  • Gonzalez said McAllen is still awaiting federal government immigration-related financial reimbursements from 2019.

The bottom line: "Our cities, our municipalities are spread thin," he said.

Go deeper

Biden's immigration tightrope

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The American Civil Liberties Union and other migrant advocacy groups are fed up with President Biden for continuing some of the controversial immigration practices used by President Trump.

Why it matters: With the president approaching his 100th day in office, the situation at the southern border has become his administration's biggest problem and threatens the Democrats' chances in the pivotal 2022 midterms.

Apr 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden weighs Ken Salazar for ambassador to Mexico

Joe Biden and Ken Salazar embrace at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Biden administration is vetting Ken Salazar, a former senator and Interior secretary, to serve as U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: President Biden is close to publicly naming a slate of ambassadors. In considering a former Senate colleague for Mexico City, he's acknowledging the crisis on the border will require both diplomatic and political skills to solve.

Biden to nominate progressive Tucson police chief to lead border agency

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden will nominate Tucson police chief Chris Magnus, a longtime critic of Trump-era immigration policies, to oversee Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: If confirmed, Magnus would be tasked with addressing a border surge that many have labeled the first new crisis of the Biden administration. The U.S. saw a massive spike in border crossings last month, including a record number of unaccompanied minors.