SAN DIEGO — Families arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico will have their cases fast-tracked in immigration court, the Biden administration said Friday, less than two weeks after it said it was easing pandemic-related restrictions on seeking asylum.
Under the plan, families stopped on the border starting on Friday could be placed in expedited immigration court dockets tasked with deciding whether these migrants can remain in the United States. Immigration judges would generally decide these cases within 300 days of an initial hearing in 10 cities including New York, Los Angeles and border communities such as El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security said in a statement.
It isn’t the first time U.S. officials have sought to expedite the immigration cases of families arriving on the southwest border. The Trump administration previously created a docket aimed at quickly deciding these cases in the immigration courts, which are notoriously backlogged and can take years to resolve cases.
The announcement comes as President Joe Biden is under mounting pressure to lift pandemic-related restrictions on seeking asylum at the border that were put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020. Under the rules, citizens of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are typically expelled to Mexico within two hours without any opportunity to seek asylum or other humanitarian protections.
Biden exempted unaccompanied children but about one of every three people who arrive in families are still subject to them, as is nearly every single adult. Last week, the administration took steps to ease the rules and agreed to eventually allow 250 people a day through border crossings to seek refuge in the United States.
The Border Patrol had more than 170,000 encounters in April, its highest tally since March 2001, including 50,000 with people traveling in families. Many are repeat crossers because getting expelled carries no legal consequences.
Friday’s announcement gives families at the border a higher priority than other cases in an immigration court system with about 1.3 million pending cases.
“Families arriving at the border who are placed in immigration proceedings should have their cases decided in an orderly, efficient, and fair manner,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “Families who have recently arrived should not languish in a multi-year backlog.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the effort aligns with his goal of immigration courts deciding cases “promptly and fairly.”
In addition to New York, Los Angeles, San Diego and El Paso, the docket is being introduced in Denver; Detroit; Miami, Newark, New Jersey; San Francisco; and Seattle.
Taxin reported from Orange County, California.