Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

New US asylum system revealed

29 March 20220 comments

The US Government has finalised its much anticipated plan for an overhaul of the nation’s asylum system giving hope for faster processing times but also creating new complexity.

The new arrangements are set to begin in April for an interim period and will see asylum seekers arriving at the US border processed within six months – as opposed to up to four years under the current system.

The new rules will not affect current cases and apply only to people who arrive after they go into effect.

Observers says that although this new system could benefit people with clear cut asylum cases, the rapid timelines planned in the new arrangements are likely to make the harder for others to navigate.

For the past 25 years, most asylum seekers who arrived at the US border were slated for ‘expedited removal’ and faced with a two-step pathway for seeking asylum.

First, an asylum seeker would have to establish they had a “credible fear” of persecution.

If they passed that credible fear interview, they would be sent to immigration court where they had to submit a formal application for asylum in English, which would then be heard by an immigration judge.

Asylum seekers who didn’t go through the expedited removal process were generally released at the border and put directly into court, skipping the credible fear stage.

Under the new rule, individuals in expedited removal who pass a credible fear interview will no longer go directly to an immigration judge.

Instead, they will first get an “Asylum Merits interview” between 21-45 days after the credible fear interview.

Following this, an asylum officer with US Citizenship and Immigration Services is authorised to grant the person asylum immediately if the person had demonstrated that they deserved it.

However, if the asylum officer determines that the person hasn’t qualified for asylum, they will be required to refer the person to an immigration judge to review the denial.

At this stage, the regulation establishes a rapid timeframe – about 90 days from start to finish.

Policy Counsel at the American Immigration Council Aaron Reichlin-Melnick says the new schedule would be significantly faster than the current timeframes but could make finding an immigration lawyer more difficult.

“Asylum cases often take weeks or months to prepare for and require extensive legal work. Lawyers seek out witnesses, gather evidence, write legal briefs, and prepare their clients for a hearing which will often determine whether they may live or die,” Mr Reichlin-Melnick said.

“Few lawyers can represent more than a handful of clients on schedules this rapid. And under these timeframes, the longer it takes to obtain a lawyer, the less likely a person could find a lawyer willing to jump in at the last minute,” he said.

As a result, the Biden administration’s new asylum process would likely have a negative devastating effect on the ability of most asylum seekers to obtain a lawyer,” Mr Reichlin-Melnick said.

“And since studies have consistently shown that having a lawyer is one of the most important factors determining whether a person will win their case, the regulation would almost certainly act as a mill of denials,” he said.

“Thankfully, the Biden administration will accept comments on the new regulation over the next 60 days and has said it is willing to make changes if necessary.

“If the administration keeps to the current timeframes as laid out in the rule, it’s almost certain that the rule will do more harm than good. But if the administration is responsive to concerns and finds ways to avoid rushing people through the process without time to find a lawyer, the rule could be improved significantly,” Mr Reichlin-Melnick said.