The pilot program will use asylum officers instead of immigration judges to screen asylum seekers, which the White House says will reduce the incredible backlog of people waiting to seek entrance to the U.S. at the border with Mexico.
This new effort follows Title 42, the controversial and widely-criticized public health order that restricted legal border crossings, first under the Trump administration, and continued under President Biden. A ruling last week blocked the Biden administration from rescinding the policy that denies migrants the right to seek asylum.
Here’s what we know so far about Biden’s new approach:
What is different under this policy?
Under this new policy, asylum seekers will be placed into what’s called “expedited removal,” meaning their case will be decided by an asylum officer instead of an immigration judge.
The Biden administration says using asylum officers (of which there are many more than judges) will expedite the immigration process. A years-long process could take as little as 90 days, officials say. If rejected, a migrant can appeal the decision to a judge like the usual process.
Migrants would then be sent to participating cities of New York, Boston, Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami.
Who qualifies for this new process?
It will only apply to individuals who are placed into expedited removal proceedings after May 31, 2022, according to a fact sheet about the plan.
And because it is still in the pilot phase, it will likely only affect a few hundred people per month at the beginning.
“There is a massive backlog right now,” Niall Stanage of The Hill told Morning in America. “People who are (already) in that (asylum) line could have a valid complaint there if they’re waiting for their cases to be processed over a period of years.”
Why is a new system needed? How likely is it to help?
Currently, asylum seekers often wait for years for their case to come before a judge. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those seeking asylum have had to wait on the Mexico side of the border, often in dangerous situations.
The pandemic has also caused a massive backlog of cases. It would take up to four years for immigration courts to catch up, according to the Migration Policy Institute, and there’s an estimated 1.6 million cases waiting their day in court.
“This is a test,” Stanage said. “We have people in the country for years in this limbo. … Does this help it? Does it speed things along? And does it maintain the integrity of the system?”
What do critics say?
This program is facing a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton which claims that asylum officials are not as qualified as judges to make these important decisions.
He recently wrote that the federal law requires genuine asylum and parole claims to be carefully managed and scrutinized by an immigration judge, “not a bureaucrat rubber stamping patently false claims.”