Advocates worry Biden’s new immigration policy unfair to asylum seekers

Immigration advocates and attorneys say the process will not be fair for those seeking asylum in the United States.
Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 7:04 PM MST
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YUMA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- There could be some significant changes along the southern border. President Biden has announced a new policy that would have asylum officers review asylum cases rather than waiting on an immigration judge and the courts that are already facing a massive backlog.

Right now, seeking asylum can take years. Under President Biden’s new policy, cases could be processed within 90 days. The goal is to expedite the process to ensure that those eligible for asylum are granted quick relief and those who are not are removed.

In December, Yuma Mayor, Douglas Nicholls, declared a local emergency due to a large number of border crossings. He says there are still around 1,000 people showing up at the border every day in Yuma. “I do suspect it’s a strong move in the right direction,” Nicholls said. “Those that are just trying to work the system and know it’s going to be years before they get in front of a judge, and they’d be woven into the fabric of the community, and it would be much harder to deport them, that’s really where this effort is focused on,” Nicholls said.

Right now, asylum cases are decided by an immigration judge. The Department of Homeland Security says under this new policy, asylum seekers will have their claims heard by an asylum officer who will conduct “credible fear screenings” of asylum seekers who express a fear of persecution or torture. If they pass that screening, their claims will be evaluated. The goal is to alleviate the current court system backlog with more than a million pending cases.

“If at any point the immigrant that is looking for asylum feels they aren’t getting a fair shake from the asylum processor, they can request to see a judge. So that provision is in there,” Mayor Nicholls said.

Immigration advocates and attorneys say the process will not be fair for those seeking asylum in the United States. “In a situation like this where they will have their full case litigated by an officer without ample time to secure an attorney and put their evidence together, I do think it would be a significant deprivation of due process,” said Darius Amiri, Chair of the Immigration Department at the Rose Law Group.

“Often, people are fleeing circumstances that are beyond their control. Violent circumstances like war, extortion, and often it’s not a matter of immediately packing your suitcase and putting all of your documents together but it’s a matter of getting out as soon as you can life or death sometimes,” Amiri explained.

Amiri says it can be hard to obtain all documents you need in such a short period. He gave examples of what asylum seekers would need to show up at the border with. “They have to prove their identity, so often they will come with a birth certificate, national I.D. card, passport if available. Other times it is not available, and it’s just a matter of leaving in the middle of the night before you think something terrible will happen to you. Beyond that, once their identification is verified, it’s about proving their case. So their sworn testimony is going to be very important, but anything they can do to back that up through evidence or documentation,” he explained.

However, Nicholls gave examples of situations where someone’s life may be in danger. “For example, if there was a threat on their life in the form of a letter or email, they can print that out and bring a copy of it. If there was a hospitalization because of some brutality and they had some discharge paperwork from the hospital. Police reports they have filed to show they have tried to get protection from the government and were not able to do so. Documentary evidence that can back up whatever their testimony is is going to help them further their case in court,” Nicholls said.

“To shift that out of the judge’s hands into an officer, you will not have the same level of training or experience or knowledge, so probably a lot of people, if this goes through, will have their case rationally decided or unfairly decided and that could affect a lot of people.”

The new policy is set to take effect in late May or early June. Mayor Nicholls says he imagines there will be a lot of hiring and retraining to fill those officer spots.