(WASHINGTON) — The Biden administration is pausing a key effort to reform and increase asylum processing at the border, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Wednesday.
First introduced last year, the new asylum processing policy had allowed asylum officers with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to grant or deny claims. Those powers were previously limited to immigration judges at the Department of Justice.
A Homeland Security spokesperson said the asylum officer adjudication process would start up again “in the near future” and migrants who already had interviews scheduled would be allowed to continue. The pause is intended “to ensure operational readiness,” the spokesperson said, before the end of an emergency pandemic expulsion policy next month that has limited asylum requests under Title 42 of the U.S. Code.
The Los Angeles Times was first to report the pause.
Authorities at the border have been preparing for the aftermath of the emergency Title 42 policy since the Biden administration first tried to end it in 2021 before hitting legal roadblocks lodged by GOP-led states. Without the ability to conduct rapid expulsions, authorities may be left to handle an even greater number of asylum claims, which can take months or years to resolve.
The now-paused process for more quickly adjudicating asylum cases was intended to ease a massive case backlog. The number of asylum seekers waiting for hearings in the U.S. has exceeded 1.5 million, according to researchers at Syracuse University.
ABC News was among the first to report last week that the Biden administration would attempt to accelerate the asylum process by holding screening interviews at Border Patrol stations. Immigrant advocates fear that moving up the initial screening interview closer to a migrant’s initial encounter with authorities would limit their ability to adequately prepare a case.
The effectiveness of that move would ultimately depend on the ability of asylum officers to adjudicate cases, said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
“If after all this efficiency we send them to the immigration courts, it just won’t work because that’ll be the bottleneck,” Chishti told ABC News.
“I think the combination of the new [screening interview] proposal at the border with the asylum officer rule is probably the best way forward,” he said, noting the training necessary for asylum officers may take time.
The government funding deal produced by Congressional negotiators last December resulted in USCIS getting roughly one-third of the $765 million in funding Biden initially requested, according to the publication Government Executive. The White House has said additional funding for the agency is necessary in order to reduce the growing backlog of asylum cases.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.