DHS launches new asylum plan to help case backlog

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Friday, June 3, 2022
DHS launches new asylum plan to help case backlog
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The Department of Homeland Security has a plan in motion to help years long backlog in asylum cases.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Department of Homeland Security has a plan in motion to help alleviate a years-long backlog in asylum cases.

Judges will not see many new asylum cases due to a process that allows asylum officers to approve or deny a case instead of going before a judge.

Migrants seeking asylum and headed to certain cities will now participate in an asylum merits interview instead of having their case seen in court. The process will potentially cut the wait from years to potentially just a few months.

"Instead of an immigration judge deciding these cases, they're going to allow asylum officers to find whether or not the applicant can receive asylum in the United States," said Houston immigration attorney Rebekah Rodriguez.

DHS confirms they have approximately 100 trained asylum officers to take on the task.

The agency's goal is to minimize the long list of cases still waiting to be seen before a judge.

"It would take years. We have some cases that were started in 2013 (and) 2012 that still have not had their first hearing or maybe had their first hearing recently and are scheduled for their final asylum hearing," said Rodriguez.

The new DHS plan is in its infancy phases as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services waits for more resources.

Asylum officers will focus initially on refugees with plans to go to Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, or Newark.

"It's a pilot at this particular moment, so they chose the city's most refugees are seeking asylum, and I'm sure as other new rules they will continue to push it out as long as the program is successful," said Rodriguez.

If an asylum officer denies someone's case. They're allowed to appeal their case to a judge.

"If the way it's going to work is how it's published. It's not going to work. It's going to make situations worse," said Rodriguez.

This new plan came nearly two weeks after Title 42 extended the public health emergency rule that allowed the government to turn away migrants, even those seeking asylum.

The country expects many asylum seekers to cross into the U.S. once that rule lifts.

"People are fleeing because they're afraid. Or people are fleeing because they can't feed their families," said El Paso refugee shelter director Ruben Garcia.

Many of these families at a non-profit refugee shelter in El Paso ran from something to our country, looking for a better life for themselves or their children.

"When people flee, what they know is what conditions are, and they have become insupportable, they have to leave. Then the question is, my God, where do I go?" said Garcia.

Immigrants looking to seek asylum in the United States need to be under one of five categories: Race, Religion, Nationality, Political opinion, and membership in a particular social group.

"A person who is truly an asylum seeker would like to get their case resolved as quickly as possible. So they can move on with their life. Seven to eight years and not being able to work adequately not having any real status is very hard for refugees who are trying to escape violence in their own countries," said Rodriguez.

Representatives with the USCIS tell ABC13 the plan is to expand the Asylum Division once they gain resources and build capacity. DHS will refer a few hundred undocumented immigrants each month for a USCIS Asylum Merits Interview after migrants follow a positive credible fear determination.

They say this new plan streamlines and simplifies the process for specific individuals found at or near the border. USCIS says it aims to build a more functional and sensible system to process asylum claims, something immigration attorneys like Rodriguez are grateful for.

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