The Biden administration on Wednesday has proposed a major overhaul to the U.S. asylum system that would speed up processing, a move that comes as migrant apprehensions at the U.S. southern border have reached a 21-year high.
The Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department has published a proposed rule that aims to end a years-long backlog in immigration court cases and cut the time migrants seeking asylum wait to hear if their request has been granted.
“Individuals who are eligible will receive relief more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be expeditiously removed,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement announcing the proposed rule. “We are building an immigration system that is designed to ensure due process, respect human dignity, and promote equity.”
The long-awaited rule, once implemented, could represent President Joe Biden’s largest change to immigration policy thus far in his administration. Biden promised an overhaul of the U.S. asylum system on the campaign trail and the policy has been in the works for months. The plan still must go through the rulemaking process, meaning the administration must allow for comments from the public. The plan will not be implemented for months.
Under Biden’s plan, if a migrant seeking asylum establishes a credible fear of removal, they would then have their asylum cases heard by an asylum officer working for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services instead of an immigration judge. If denied, under the new process, the person seeking asylum could request an administrative review by an immigration judge and ultimately appeal the decision as well.
“This rule will both reduce the caseload in our immigration courts and protect the rights of those fleeing persecution and violence,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has continued to use a public health order first employed by former President Donald Trump, known as Title 42, to kick out migrants arriving at the U.S. border without allowing them to seek asylum. Democrats, immigrant advocates and public health experts have long urged Biden officials to end use of the order, calling it inhumane and illegal.
However, Biden officials last month decided to continue Title 42's use given the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus and high numbers of border apprehensions. U.S. border agents apprehended more than 210,000 migrants in July 2021, the highest number seen since 2000, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures. July also saw a record number of unaccompanied children — nearly 19,000.
DHS has said it expects apprehensions this fiscal year to likely be “the highest ever recorded.”
Last month, the Biden administration released a 21-point plan outlining its plans to handle asylum claims in a fair and timely manner, while ensuring a secure, well-managed border. In the framework, the White House acknowledged that its promised fair and humane immigration system “won’t be achieved overnight, especially after the prior Administration’s irrational and inhumane policies, but this Administration has a blueprint to get there and is making real progress.”
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