The root of the border crisis is a broken asylum system

In Foreign Affairs, written by Julia Preston, the national immigration correspondent for The New York Times from 2006 to 2016; she received a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for her reporting on Mexico.

“At the core of the crisis, from the borderlands to the American interior, is the U.S. asylum system. It was created nearly half a century ago to assess foreigners’ claims of persecution case by case. Over the past decade, however, the asylum system has become something else: for lack of other legal avenues, it has turned into the main channel for mass immigration across the southwest border, a function it was never designed to serve. By the end of 2022, almost 800,000 asylum cases were awaiting adjudication in the immigration courts. The average asylum claim took more than four years to decide. Yet in fiscal 2022 the courts nationwide granted asylum in only 22,311 cases.

“Since there have been no clear-cut procedures for deporting asylum seekers whose claims are rejected, many of those people and their families—along with tens of thousands of asylum seekers denied in previous years—have quietly joined the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country.

“The asylum system is failing at every step of the way. It has failed to provide orderly pathways for migrants at the border. It does not provide timely protection for people escaping from truly threatening situations in their home countries; nor does it give timely denials to migrants who are fleeing poverty and cannot meet the exacting legal definition of persecution. And now, as New York, Chicago, and other cities struggle with the rising costs of supporting the newcomers, they confront another failure: the system prevents asylum seekers from going to work to contribute to the U.S. economy. “

Preston refers to Title 42, use of parole, creating intake centers in Latin American countries, and introducing an app for applicants, as dancing around the core problem of the design of the asylum system.

She writes, “The reality is that officials in Washington will have to keep improvising at the border until the failings of asylum are reformed, and for that, Congress must act. Lawmakers will have to update and clarify the persecution standard to encompass victims of organized criminal violence, sexual abuse, and other nonpolitical violations; simplify the screening process; and specify the consequences for migrants whose claims are denied. More urgently, lawmakers must act to restore asylum to its purpose by expanding alternative legal avenues for labor and family immigration.”

Without reforms, the United States will perpetuate a system that draws more people into irregular migration, does not serve the American economy, and could leave hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the country in perpetual legal limbo.



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