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News / Nation & World

Biden administration will propose tougher asylum standards for some migrants at the border

By Associated Press
Published: May 8, 2024, 3:24pm

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to propose a new rule Thursday aimed at speeding up the asylum claims process for some migrants — a potential prelude to broader actions from President Joe Biden later this year that would impose a bigger crackdown at the border.

It’s meant to affect migrants with criminal records or those who would otherwise be eventually deemed ineligible for asylum in the United States. The proposal, which the Department of Homeland Security plans to announce on Thursday, was confirmed by four people familiar with its contents who were granted anonymity to detail plans not yet public.

Under current law, a migrant who arrives at the border and undergoes an initial screening for “credible fear” — one criterion for asylum — is allowed to continue with the process even if they have a criminal background or would pose a security risk. A judge would later determine whether that migrant would be eligible for asylum.

The change would effectively let an officer at the initial screening stage make that determination, rather than waiting for a judge, according to the people. The people also said the proposal affects a relatively small universe of migrants and those who would not be qualified to receive asylum protections anyway.

But despite those caveats, immigration advocates have previously raised questions about any changes to the credible fear process, saying that migrants are often doing these interviews immediately after surviving life-threatening perilous trips to get to the U.S.

Because of this, initial interviews are designed to have a relatively lower bar so that migrants aren’t wrongfully deported, they say. And they’ve questioned how much legal help migrants who are in custody can actually get in order to prepare them for this key first step toward an asylum claim.

It will likely be months before Thursday’s proposal, which was first reported by Politico, would actually go into effect. Biden continues to mull larger executive action on the border, whose timing depends in large part on whether the number of illegal border crossings increases — they have been steadily decreasing since December.

The proposed rule also comes amid pressure from fellow Democrats and immigrant rights advocates to support immigrants already in the United States.

Janet Murguía, the president of UnidosUS, a civil rights advocacy organization, said she met with Biden last week at the White House with other Latino leaders to push for relief for immigrants who do not have legal status but have been in the United States for years.

“I believe that President Biden is open to this notion that he can do something. He asked for more specifics,” Murguía said. “We’re going to make the case in the White House. We’re going to make the case here in the Capitol, across the country, in every community.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Latino and progressive congressional Democrats expressed frustration at the idea that the White House would clamp down on the border without also assisting immigrants who crossed the border illegally as children.

“Mr. President, we know what’s in your heart. Let’s reject the extremist messaging vilifying immigrants. Let’s embrace our values as a nation of immigrants and provide relief for the long-term residents of the United States,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat.

The lawmakers are calling for the Biden administration to provide relief from deportation to spouses and other family members of U.S. citizens, as well as extended temporary protected status, which allows people from countries ravaged by disaster and war to live and work legally in the United States.

At the same time, Democrats, especially those in political swing states, are encouraging the White House to take unilateral action to curtail border crossings.

In the Senate, Democrats are considering whether to put a series of border proposals to a vote in order to show that Republicans are opposed to swifter border enforcement. And in the House, 15 Democrats penned a letter to the White House this week encouraging executive actions.

“We need to make sure that we are adjudicating those who are coming across just as quickly as possible, specifically around sort of administrative judges being down at the southern border,” said Rep. Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat who led the letter. “And I do think there’s a limit to the number of people who we can accept into our nation on an asylum claim. At the end of the day, we cannot have a border where an unlimited amount of people can simply cross.”

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