The Department of Homeland Security has plans in the works for a new rule that will supposedly streamline the application process for asylum seekers. Instead of the several and unpredictable years that applicants would normally be enduring in the current asylum application process, the Biden administration is opting to shorten the wait time to several months.
Calling on USCIS Officers to Grant Asylum
The immigration court currently has roughly 500 immigration judges and a backlog of 1.7 million cases, all of which would take over four year to process, even without new cases coming in, according to The Hill. On top of that, the USCIS has a backlog of 9.5 million unattended applications as of February, 2022, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
This expedition of the asylum-seeking process in the U.S. will be made possible by placing additional responsibilities on USCIS officers. These officers will now have the power to grant asylum and are also responsible for creating a record of the case for the judge, given the applicant was denied and appealed to the immigration court.
Immigration court judges will then be given 90 days to rule on the case since all necessary evidence and related documents will already have been reviewed by the USCIS officers, whereas currently, these judges would have to start each case from scratch.
Expediting Process Could Cause More Hardships
Critics of streamlining the immigration process this way argue that this does not give applicants enough time to find legal representation, gather evidence and prepare their case submissions. Because the process starts 21-45 days after the initial screening interview, advocates say that due process cannot be guaranteed.
In addition to the over-promising nature of this streamlining initiative, the biggest question on the possibility of this execution is regarding funding. USCIS has been primarily funded with the money they get from application fees, but as of 2022, the Biden administration has added over $200 million to their budget, with questions still unanswered on how these funds will play a role in recruiting and training USCIS officers.
An estimated 800 new officers will need to be hired in response to USCIS’s expanded workload. The initiative will be implemented in phases in order to best determine the workforce’s needs and capacity.
Title 42 Under the Biden Administration
The new streamlining rule comes at the forefront of the Biden administration’s attempts to rebuild the immigration system that the Trump administration overly restricted. According to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, these initiatives could also lead to the drawback of the unpopular Trump-era policy, Title 42.
Title 42 allowed for the rapid expulsion of immigrants under the pretense of public health or sanitary protections during the pandemic. On March 11, Secretary Mayorkas issued an order detailing immigration officers to exempt certain Ukrainian nationals from Title 42 due to the ongoing humanitarian situation.
U.S. authorities have been using Title 42 since March 2020 as a border management tool to deport immigrants, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border. Consequently, the policy is under great public scrutiny and is scheduled to be reviewed by the Centers for Disease and Control by March 30.
As of March 22, the U.S. has taken in 7,888 refugees for fiscal year 2022, with the cap currently being at 125,000. The Biden administration says that the 100,000 Ukrainian refugees they plan to welcome, which includes other vulnerable individuals affected by the Russian invasion on Ukraine, will not be considered under this refugee cap number.