National Security

Administration to streamline processing of asylum applications

The Biden administration on Tuesday will begin streamlining its processing of asylum applications in an effort to aid those who otherwise face years in limbo due to massive backlogs in the immigration court system.

Of the roughly 600 immigration judges in the nation, only one currently can give approval to those fleeing persecution to remain in the country.

But starting Tuesday, asylum officers with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin reviewing a handful of those applications as the Biden administration begins the initial rollout of a plan it hopes to expand across the country.

“This rule is designed to transform how asylum claims are handled at our nation’s borders. To cut down unwieldy, slow-moving bureaucracy and establish a fair and efficient process in its place. It will allow noncitizens who are eligible for relief to be granted relief quickly. And importantly, it will also allow DHS to swiftly remove individuals who are ineligible much earlier in the process,” a senior USCIS official told reporters Thursday, referring to the Department of Homeland Security.

“It will allow noncitizens who are eligible for relief to be granted relief quickly. And importantly, it will also allow DHS to quickly remove individuals who are ineligible much earlier in the process.”

Those interviews serve as an initial screening to determine whether an asylum seeker’s fear of persecution has enough merit to proceed.

Though largely a bureaucratic shift, the shuffle could help asylum-seekers more quickly gain status instead of funneling them into the 1.7 million immigration court case backlog that would take more than four years to get through even without any new cases.

At its core, the new rule will transfer the authority to grant asylum from immigration judges under the Department of Justice to USCIS officers within Homeland Security.

Immigration judges today have that authority mostly under a regulatory umbrella, meaning the administration does not need legislative approval to make the change, but the attorney general’s oversight of immigration judges is set in statute.

Administration officials did not respond when asked whether that could present an opening to a legal challenge against the new asylum process.

While the new program will be open to single adults as well as family placed in expedited removal proceedings, there are many points for asylum seekers to be winnowed from the program.

The pilot process will initially only be available for migrants taken to two Texas-based facilities, with USCIS officers conducting what are known as credible fear interviews over the phone.

Those interviews serve as an initial screening to determine whether an asylum seeker’s fear of persecution has enough merit to proceed to a full asylum interview.

Those referrals will be available only to those who anticipate residing in Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Newark or San Francisco. All are cities where USCIS has asylum offices.

Under the new system, USCIS officers could grant asylum, and any migrants who are denied could appeal the decision within the immigration court system, an office within the Department of Justice known as the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

USCIS currently has 750 officers on staff to process asylum claims but hopes to bring that number up to 1,000 with new hires.

The new asylum policy would have dovetailed with the administration’s moves to end Title 42, a Trump-era border management policy that all but gutted the asylum process.

But a federal judge in Louisiana last week blocked the administration’s end of Title 42, meaning some aspiring asylum seekers could still potentially be expelled from the country without having the chance to claim asylum.

“There have historically always been significant numbers of both single adults and family units who cannot be expelled pursuant to Title 42 for a range of different reasons. And those individuals may be eligible to be processed pursuant to the procedures laid out in the … rule,” said the USCIS official.

Updated at 6:41 p.m.

Tags Asylum Biden DHS Immigration Joe Biden USCIS
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