The New York Times
A wave of people seeking better lives has overwhelmed America’s immigration infrastructure.
In response, the United States has allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum to live and work in the country without evaluating the merits of their claims while summarily expelling hundreds of thousands of others, also without regard to the merits of their claims. A promise to shelter those in need has thus devolved into a Kafkaesque sham.
Immigration is a vitalizing force in the nation’s cultural and economic life, but the United States cannot admit all those who wish to come. The choice of who is allowed to enter must be intentional, not the result of a government that lacks the capacity to enforce its own laws. The shambles of the asylum process is undermining public support for immigration. And that jeopardizes the ability of those with legitimate need to obtain refuge.
America’s commitment to offer asylum to people fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands is an essential expression of the nation’s ideals. But the system is broken. The United States needs to invest the resources necessary to live up to its ideals by building a system that treats asylum seekers with dignity, provides for a fair and efficient adjudication of their claims and ensures those who do not obtain permission to stay in the country do not remain.
The daily scenes of bedraggled families sloshing across the Rio Grande to reach Texas encapsulate the misery and unfairness of an immigration system that has devolved into a haphazard collection of breaches and barriers. Between October 2021 and June 2022, the first three-quarters of the most recent fiscal year, the government accepted asylum applications from more than 150,000 people, mostly from Latin America, many traveling with their families.
Often, they seek or wait patiently for arrest as soon as they set foot in the United States, knowing after a few days in federal custody, they will be released. More than 750,000 people are now waiting for the government to review their asylum claims, and the average wait time is more than four years, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
In the meantime, they can live in the United States and after 150 days apply for permission to work here. The Government Accountability Office reported last month the government was struggling to keep track of those released from custody.
The basic problem is the government lacks resources to act justly. A bill introduced last year, the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act, would provide those resources. The core provides funding for four new processing centers along the southern border. Individuals ineligible for asylum could be deported with a limited right to appeal. The legislation also would add 150 immigration judges and 300 asylum officers and clarify the mission of customs and border patrol agencies.
Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to begin the critical work of fixing the nation’s immigration system by overhauling the asylum process.