It is estimated that the U.S. has almost 1.7 million asylum cases waiting to be heard in immigration courts. And that is only for people who tried to enter along the border with Mexico.
The administration of President Joe Biden has set rules that permit asylum officers instead of judges to decide asylum claims. That could help reduce the number of cases waiting for a hearing.
However, with such a large number of refugees, it is unclear how soon people will see results.
The new rules could go into effect in just over 60 days. The goal is for asylum seekers to find out their status in months instead of years.
The changes affect both officers who are part of the Department of Homeland Security and judges whose courts are supervised by the Department of Justice.
Alejandro Mayorkas leads the Department of Homeland Security. He said: “The current system…has long needed repair.”
Merrick Garland is the U.S. Attorney General. He said the new rules will help “ensure that asylum claims are processed fairly, expeditiously and consistent with due process.”
Under the new rules, asylum officers will decide cases in 90 days. Those who are rejected will be seen by judges who will then decide their cases in 90 more days. The judges will be able to decide cases faster than in the past because they can get more information from the officers.
Immigration experts are split on the new plan. Some believe the rules will prevent refugees from waiting so long for the safety of the U.S. But, others say the process may move too quickly for refugees to find lawyers who can help their asylum request.
Eleanor Acer is a director for refugee protection at Human Rights First. In a statement, she expressed concern about the increased speed, saying it could lead to mistakes and then more time in the courts to correct the mistakes.
Others who worry that the U.S. is becoming too open to refugees said officers will not be as able as judges to reject false asylum claims. But government officials disagreed with that position.
Another concern is that the U.S. is not planning to employ more asylum officers, even as they work to deal with the huge number of cases. Last year, the U.S. government estimated it needed 800 more asylum officers, but the new plan will not start by including new workers.
In addition, the new rules may not be put in place as soon as Homeland Security and the Department of Justice would like. The announcement of the rules was released last August and received more than 5,300 comments from the public. Other changes to the immigration system during both the leadership of Presidents Donald Trump and Biden have faced legal action.
I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based a report by the Associated Press.
Words in This Story
status –n. the official position of a person or thing according to the law
expeditiously –adj. acting or doing something in a quick and effective way
due process – n. the official and correct way of doing things in a legal case; the rule that a legal case must be done in a way that protects the rights of all the people involved