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HIAS Responds to Plans to Overhaul U.S. Asylum System

SILVER SPRING, Md.—Today, the Biden administration announced its plans for a significant overhaul of the U.S. asylum system. HIAS welcomes the administration’s intent to help reduce the immigration court backlog by allowing some asylum seekers to have their cases heard by asylum officers instead of immigration judges.

“While we support the administration’s desire to reduce the immigration court backlog, the final version of the rule is not a panacea to fix the fundamental challenges facing the U.S. asylum system,” said Naomi Steinberg, HIAS’ vice president for U.S. policy and advocacy. “HIAS has real concerns about how the race to adjudicate asylum cases quickly in the name of efficiency could impact asylum seekers’ access to due process and could result in the return of people in need of protection to dangerous situations in their home countries.”

This new rule will directly impact people who are placed in the “expedited removal” system, a process that HIAS has long decried is rife with pitfalls for asylum seekers. Under the new plan, asylum seekers who pass their initial “credible fear interview” will then go in front of an asylum officer rather than an immigration judge.

“We are concerned that the tight timelines for asylum adjudications that form the foundation of this rule will lead to asylum seekers not having adequate time to find legal counsel and prepare their cases,” Steinberg added. “This can literally be a matter of life and death for people seeking safety in the United States. We must also not forget that Title 42 is still in effect. HIAS will continue to call for the rescission of this misguided policy until it is completely terminated.” 

The process for how the rule will take effect is still unclear — officials have not said where it would begin or how many asylum seekers would be involved — and the government would need to hire hundreds of new asylum officers to properly implement the rule. The rule will go into effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

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