Los Angeles Politics

Signature Biden asylum reform now on hold

The Biden administration will pause its signature effort to reform asylum processing at the border, Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed Wednesday.

The so-called asylum processing rule, which the administration launched with great fanfare in 2022, allowed asylum officers to grant and deny asylum to migrants at the southern border.

Administration officials insist that the pause is a temporary measure designed to ensure that the country’s immigration agencies are prepared for a potential increase in border crossings after the end of Title 42, a pandemic-era measure that allows border agents to quickly turn back migrants.

But critics of the administration say the pause signals Biden’s latest move away from reforming the asylum process and back toward Trump-style restrictions at the southern border.

“It’s tragic to see the administration abandon even minimal progress in favor of recycling Trump policies that are intentional in their cruelty,” said Heidi Altman, policy director at the National Immigrant Justice Center. Altman said the policy had many problems that needed fixing but it “represented one of the few efforts by this administration to prioritize humanitarian processing.”

Administration officials had hoped that allowing asylum officers to grant or deny asylum would make the lengthy process more efficient and shorten years-long backlogs in immigration courts, which were previously the only bodies that could grant or deny asylum.

But government officials have worried for months that US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees asylum officers, could be overwhelmed by a post-Title 42 surge in border crossings. Title 42 is scheduled to expire on May 11.

The pause to the asylum-processing rule halts a policy that was never fully launched. DHS had limited access to the asylum officer interviews to single adult migrants who were headed to cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The administration also plans to limit asylum for migrants who cross the border without authorization and did not apply for protections in a country they passed through on the way to the U.S. That policy, which the administration unveiled in February but has yet to finalize, is Biden’s latest attempt to deter migrants from crossing the southern border without permission. The administration expanded the use of Title 42 in January by sending migrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Honduras to Mexico. At the same time, it allowed nationals of those countries to apply for entry to the US if they have a financial sponsor.

The administration is also piloting a program under which migrants would have their first asylum screening – known as a credible fear interview – in Border Patrol custody. DHS officials say that migrants will have access to legal service providers. Advocates have blasted the plan and say it will lead to migrants spending more time in border agents’ custody.

Detractors of the policy to limit asylum at the southern border say it mirrors former President Trump’s move to deny asylum to people who crossed into the U.S. without authorization and did not seek protections in another country on their journey. A federal appeals court blocked that policy in 2020.

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