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Biden proposal would target some migrants for quicker denial of asylum

FILE - A group of people wait to be processed after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States as they seek asylum, April 17, 2024, near Jacumba, Calif.
FILE - A group of people wait to be processed after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States as they seek asylum, April 17, 2024, near Jacumba, Calif.

President Joe Biden on Thursday proposed a new regulation to expedite the asylum claims process for specific migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, but the plan drew objections from both immigrant advocates and administration critics.

The order would target individuals with criminal backgrounds and those likely to be found ineligible for asylum for other reasons.

The proposed change would allow an asylum officer to decide whether someone qualifies for asylum during the initial screening at the border, rather than waiting months or years for a judge to decide. This would affect a small group of migrants who likely wouldn't qualify for asylum anyway.

In a call with reporters on Thursday, a senior administration official from the Department of Homeland Security could not estimate how many people the proposed rule would affect but did say the rule would allow asylum officers to quickly decide that a given migrant poses a threat to national security or public safety and therefore does not qualify for asylum.

“I think it's important that everybody understand that this really only applies to individuals who have a serious criminal history or who are, you know, linked to terrorist activity, and that's inherently a small fraction of the individuals that we encounter or interview on a given day,” the DHS official said.

According to federal law, people who are considered dangerous to national security or public safety can't receive asylum. This includes those who have committed serious crimes, helped in persecuting others, or are a threat to the country's security.

Currently, these individuals are detained while their asylum eligibility is determined. But the proposed rule allows asylum officers to make that determination during the credible-fear interview, earlier in the immigration process.

The rule will be published Monday, and comments will be accepted for 30 days. Immigration officials expect the final rule to be issued this year.


Immigration advocates worry that migrants, who often undergo these interviews right after dangerous journeys to the U.S., might not get a fair chance.

They argue that the initial interviews should be more lenient to prevent wrongful deportations. They also question whether migrants in custody can get enough legal assistance to prepare for this crucial step in seeking asylum.

The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Mark Green of the state of Tennessee, objected later Thursday that the administration’s proposal does not go far enough.

"The proposed rule will only apply to illegal aliens who are believed to be either a national security or public safety threat," Green said. "The rule will not impact or reduce the millions of illegitimate asylum claims being filed by economic migrants."

The Biden administration is between “a rock and a hard place,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, in an email to VOA.

"But the public is demanding immigration changes. The Biden administration seems damned if it tries to do anything to resolve the border crisis and damned if it doesn't,” he wrote.

A sharp increase in the number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has presented a political crisis for Biden since the beginning of his administration. Many migrants come to the U.S. seeking better economic prospects or to escape violence.

The Biden administration introduced strict asylum measures in 2023 and is trying to address the causes of migration.

Biden asked Vice President Kamala Harris to spearhead a "root causes" strategy at the beginning of his presidency, banking heavily on using American investments to improve living conditions in three Central American nations known as the Northern Triangle: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.