By shifting the adjudication of claims from immigration judges to asylum officers, officials hope cases will be completed in months, not years. There are 1.7 million cases pending in immigration court, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks immigration court data.
“It will help reduce the burden on our immigration courts, protect the rights of those fleeing persecution and violence, and enable immigration judges to issue removal orders when appropriate,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement.
Those who aren’t subject to the authority and are seeking asylum are then screened by asylum officers. If they pass the credible fear screening, their cases progress through the immigration court system.
The new regulation could alleviate the backlog by allowing asylum officers to adjudicate claims, instead of immigration judges who are facing thousands of cases already. US Citizenship and Immigration Services — an agency under the Department of Homeland Security — oversees asylum processing.
“It is an effort to deliver greater efficiency to the asylum process, while not compromising the due process that claimants have before them,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters last week, adding that implementation will be phased in, given resource constraints.
The USCIS portion of the process, which includes the credible fear determination and a decision on the asylum claim, is still expected to take up to 90 days. The asylum seeker may be in detention or released depending on individual circumstances, officials told reporters Wednesday.
If a case is denied, the individual may request review by an immigration judge under a streamlined process. The immigration judge is expected to issue a decision roughly 90 days after the proceedings begin, though continuances may also be requested, the officials added.
The administration is still assessing who the rule will apply to and where it will be implemented, officials said, emphasizing that the rollout will start small. One of the challenges officials are likely to face is lack of sufficient resources given strained capacity at USCIS.
Officials told reporters they’re bolstering staff to implement the rule when it takes effect but declined to say how many additional resources will be required.
“Based on case volumes and capacity for both the existing workload and the new work resulting from this rule, USCIS has increased and plans to further increase the staffing and infrastructure to handle the full volume of work contemplated under the rule,” the USCIS official said.
USCIS had previously estimated that it needed to hire around 800 new employees and spend about $180 million to implement the process for roughly 75,000 cases annually, according to text of the proposed regulation.
“We’re putting in place dedicated immigration judges in a significant large number so families fleeing persecution and violence can have their cases heard faster and those who don’t legitimately hear can be sent back,” Biden said.