Biden administration officials are finalizing the rule proposed last summer intended to speed up the asylum process for some vulnerable people by allowing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to handle cases instead of leaving them solely to immigration judges.
“Due to existing court backlogs, the process for hearing and deciding these asylum cases currently takes several years on average,” the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday. “When fully implemented, the reforms and new efficiencies will shorten the process to several months for most asylum applicants covered by this rule.”
“I am glad to see the Biden administration taking innovative measures to address the massive immigration court backlog and to create an orderly asylum process at the southern border,” New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said in a statement received by Daily Kos. “I believe it is necessary to modernize every legal migration pathway, including our asylum system that far too often is the only legal pathway available to migrants.
“Nonetheless, this announced change must ensure the due process rights of asylum seekers are protected under this new rule,” he continued. The administration said that asylum-seekers who aren’t approved by an asylum officer will then have their cases reviewed by an immigration judge. But experts have expressed worry that “new timetables would all but guarantee that the vast majority of asylum seekers won't have time to find a lawyer,” tweeted immigration policy lawyer Ben Orlebeke. Under the rule, cases will have to be resolved within 90 days.
Listen to Immigration advocate Juan Escalante talk about what the Biden administration needs to do to fix our immigration system on Daily Kos’ The Brief podcast.
”Asylum seekers must be afforded sufficient time to prepare their cases and have meaningful access to lawyers to guide them through a complex legal process,” Immigrant Defenders Law Center tweeted.
”The rule will not apply to unaccompanied children, and it will only apply to individuals who are placed into expedited removal proceedings on or after its effective date,” the administration continued in the statement. “The rule will be implemented in phases, starting with a limited number of individuals and subsequently expanding as the USCIS Asylum Division receives additional resources and builds capacity.”
“This rule advances our efforts to ensure that asylum claims are processed fairly, expeditiously, and consistent with due process,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “It will help reduce the burden on our immigration courts, protect the rights of those fleeing persecution and violence, and enable immigration judges to issue removal orders when appropriate. We look forward to receiving additional input from stakeholders and the public on this important rule.”
The New York Times reports that more than 5,000 comments were submitted when the government opened the proposal to the public last year, and also noted the due process concerns expressed by experts. The report said the proposal has been called “the most sweeping change to the process in a quarter-century.”
“All in all, the Biden administration was clearly responsive to many of our comments and made a number of changes that were requested,” American Immigration Council Senior Policy Counsel Aaron Reichlin-Melnick tweeted, noting nearly two dozen changes. “However, the issue of the ‘streamlined’ proceedings remains a glaring problem that will have to be addressed in the new comment period.” See Reichlin-Melnick’s entire thread on the policy here.
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