Biden administration proposes overhaul of asylum system to speed up claim approval

The Biden administration had proposed an overhaul of the asylum system to speed up claim approvals.

By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

(CNN) -- The Biden administration has proposed a federal regulation that would overhaul the asylum system in an attempt to settle claims at a faster pace and help alleviate the immigration court backlog, the departments of Homeland Security and Justice announced Wednesday.

The proposed rule would give asylum officers more authority by allowing them to hear and decide applications -- cases that are usually assigned to immigration judges -- when migrants present at the US southern border. It doesn't apply to unaccompanied children and individuals already residing in the United States.

The administration has been wrestling with an overwhelming number of arrivals at the US-Mexico border. In July, US Customs and Border Protection encountered 212,672 people, up from June and amid some of the hottest summer weeks -- when arrests usually dip -- and of those, 95,788 individuals were expelled, according to the latest available data. Twenty-seven percent had previously tried to cross the border.

Administration officials have been alluding to the proposed change in processing asylum claims for months, including in the White House immigration blueprint released weeks ago.

"These proposed changes will significantly improve DHS's and DOJ's ability to more promptly and efficiently consider the asylum claims of individuals encountered at or near the border, while ensuring fundamental fairness," said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement Wednesday. "Individuals who are eligible will receive relief more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be expeditiously removed."

Border authorities have been leaning on a public health authority, known as Title 42, to turn back migrants arrested at the US-Mexico border, barring some exceptions. Those who aren't subject to the authority and are seeking asylum are placed into a process where they're screened by asylum officers. If they pass the credible fear screening, their case progresses through the immigration court system.

The US immigration court system has been bogged down by more than 1 million pending cases, which can take years to complete. The proposed rule could alleviate the backlog by allowing asylum officers to adjudicate claims. If a case is denied, the individual may request review by an immigration judge under a streamlined process, according to DHS and DOJ.

In the rule, the departments acknowledge the dated process currently in place and its shortcomings in addressing the current flow of migrants, saying it's "no longer fit for its intended purpose."

"It does not adequately address the need to adjudicate in a timely manner the rapidly increasing number of asylum claims raised by individuals arriving in the United States," the rule reads.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees asylum processing, estimated that it needs to hire around 800 new employees and spend approximately $180 million to implement the process for roughly 75,000 cases annually, according to text of the regulation.

The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register Friday and be open to public comment for 60 days.

The regulation is one of a series of immigration actions taken by the Biden administration. On Tuesday, DHS announced a pilot program that provides services to migrants released into the US to ensure they attend their immigration court hearings.

The so-called Case Management Pilot Program will facilitate access to legal information and provide services, like mental health services, human and sex trafficking screening, cultural orientation programs, connections to social services, and departure planning and reintegration services for individuals returning to their home countries, the department said.

Earlier this summer, the administration also announced it plans to speed up court cases for recently arrived migrant families who are seeking asylum.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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