The Center for Immigration Studies has reported that, in the final months of 2019, there were 340,810 asylum applications pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS handles asylum applications filed by people who are not currently in deportation proceedings.
At the same time, more than 476,000 asylum cases were pending before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the parent agency of both the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals) constituting roughly 48 percent of the nearly one million cases awaiting adjudication. The Immigration Court handles asylum applications filed by individuals who are already in deportation proceedings.
And although travel restrictions associated with the COVID-10 pandemic have caused a temporary dip in the number of asylum applications being filed, that logjam only promises to grow. There are few signs that world is becoming a more stable, peaceful place. The vast majority of ongoing crises abroad are likely to continue well into the near future. Increasing political and economic instability in places like Venezuela and Hong Kong could, at any time, drive a wave of asylum seekers toward the borders of the United States at virtually any moment.
Accordingly, the Trump administration is taking steps to improve the efficiency of our asylum system and fortify it against fraud and abuse. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have just proposed new rules that would, “create more efficient procedures for the adjudication of claims for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).”
Although the proposed rule sets forth a number of important changes to the asylum adjudication process, its key provisions are as follows:
- Create streamlined proceedings for the adjudication of asylum applications filed by individuals found to have a genuine fear of persecution in their home country, rather than reviewing those applications in regular Immigration Court hearings.
- Allow immigration judges to dismiss asylum applications, without a hearing, when the application doesn’t establish basic eligibility for relief.
- Clarify the circumstances in which an alien may be barred from seeking further relief after having filed a “frivolous” asylum application.
- Clarify the definitions of key terms such as “frivolous,” “particular social group,” “political opinion,” “persecution” and “firm resettlement.”
- Outline the factors that adjudicators must consider when making discretionary determinations.
If implemented, these amendments have the potential to improve the deeply flawed system through which the United States currently grants asylum and related humanitarian protections. They address some of the structural flaws that have kept U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Immigration Court from processing asylum applications in a timely fashion. In addition, they help to keep ineligible foreign nationals from attempting to exploit humanitarian protections as a method of entering the U.S. in search of jobs and opportunities for economic gain.
While these changes are certain to meet with criticism from the open borders lobby, they are a positive development that will aid greatly in restoring the integrity of our porous borders. Asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under Article III of the CAT should not become an immigration-backdoor for anyone dissatisfied with life in any country where conditions are rougher than they are in America. And the Trump administration should be greatly commended for taking firm steps to ensure that these forms of relief continue to serve their intended purpose: protection for persecuted people in dire need.