Deploy Asylum Officers to End Catch and Release and Improve Border Security

Recent supplemental budget negotiations between the Biden Administration and US Senators have included bipartisan talks of reforming the asylum system to improve border security. Senators should update the asylum system in a way that results in more orderly, secure, and humane processes at the border. This can and should be achieved in a manner that upholds our nation’s moral and legal obligations to provide due process and protection to those seeking asylum with credible fears of returning to their country due to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinions.

The simple and commonsense solution that Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on is to deploy a significant number of asylum officers to the border and equip USCIS to process asylum seekers in a matter of weeks instead of a matter of years. This would enable DHS to end “catch and release” and swiftly expel those who don’t qualify for asylum instead of admitting them to the US interior for years while their cases are pending. It would also ensure that qualified asylum seekers receive efficient due process.

The backlog of US immigration cases recently hit an all-time high of over 3 million cases, up 1 million from a year ago. This backlog includes over 1 million pending asylum cases. With the current growing case backlog and an insufficient number of immigration judges and asylum officers to process them, most migrants who pass an initial credible fear screening and file an asylum claim are then released and given a notice to appear at a court date roughly five years later.

During this lengthy backlogged case processing time, asylum seekers can apply for work authorization after 150 days have passed since filing an asylum claim. While these work authorizations enable asylees to support themselves and provide a needed source of workers to our economy that is being hindered by inflationary workforce shortages, the vast majority of immigrants who apply for asylum do not end up getting their cases approved. 

As a result of the backlog and lengthy delays before cases are heard, economic migrants are incentivized to make the trek to the border to claim asylum and obtain this temporary work authorization. Taxpayers and businesses invest resources in migrants who will ultimately be forced to leave or work in the underground economy. Border patrol resources are spent on processing economic migrants who end up not getting asylum instead of securing the border.  Furthermore, widely circulated statements from politicians saying our border is wide open are used by the cartels to encourage more people to risk everything to make the dangerous journey north.

A significant number of asylum officers should be deployed to speed up asylum processing and reduce the lengthy case backlog and processing times. If lawmakers also allocated sufficient resources towards humane processing centers, they could end this “catch and release” that is incentivizing asylum seekers to show up at the border. Under current US law, families with minor children cannot be detained for more than 72 hours and could be tracked with alternatives to detention during the processing of their cases.

It’s also worth noting that many of the people who claim asylum and don’t qualify are economic migrants with little to no existing legal pathways to come to the US to work. If lawmakers created pathways for economic migrants to come to the US legally through ports of entry to work, it would help to reduce border traffic and chaos. This was evidenced by the Biden Administration’s parole program for migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, which has reduced illegal border crossing by migrants from those nations.

When it comes to asylum reform, reducing the processing time for asylum cases is a sensible and attainable solution that will disincentivize illegal border crossings and improve border security while speeding up protections and work authorizations for qualified asylum seekers. With border politics inhibiting immigration reform for decades, providing funding to increase the number of asylum officers at the border could be a first bipartisan step for Congress towards accomplishing further needed reforms such as a legislative solution for DACA and Dreamers and a solution to ID and Tax undocumented immigrants who are already here. 


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