The Biden administration on Friday announced that families arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico would have their court proceedings fast-tracked, less than two weeks after it said it was lifting pandemic restrictions on asylum.
Under the initiative, immigration courts in 10 cities will generally issue decisions within 300 days of arrival.
The plan will worry Republicans who have linked an increase in arrivals with a softening of immigration policies and raised concerns among advocates for immigrants that they might not be treated with due process.
‘Families arriving at the border who are placed in immigration proceedings should have their cases decided in an orderly, efficient, and fair manner,’ said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said families arriving at the border should have their cases decided ‘in an orderly, efficient and fair manner,’ as the Biden administration outlined plans to fast-track their immigration cases
Migrants cross the Rio Bravo from Mexico to the US. Numbers have surged since President Biden was sworn into power
Asylum-seeking migrant families wait to be processed by U.S. Border Patrols after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico in Roma, Texas, U.S., May 28, 2021.
‘Families who have recently arrived should not languish in a multi-year backlog; today’s announcement is an important step for both justice and border security.’
Under the joint Department of Justice and Homeland Security plan, families stopped on the border starting Friday could be placed in expedited proceedings aimed at determining whether they can remain in the United States.
Judges would generally decide these cases within 300 days of an initial hearing in cities including New York, Los Angeles and border communities such as El Paso, Texas, and San Diego.
It isn’t the first time U.S. officials have sought to expedite the cases of families arriving on the southwest border.
The Trump and Obama administrations previously created dockets aimed at quickly deciding these cases in the 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.
According to unofficial estimates approximately 200,000 migrants have crossed into the United States along the southern border since February 2021.
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.
But immigrant advocates said creating dockets to speed asylum seekers through the courts isn’t fair and in the past has created delays for other migrants already waiting years for their cases to be heard.
Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, urged the Biden administration to roll back Trump administration measures that make it difficult for Central American migrants fleeing violence to qualify for humanitarian protection in the United States.
‘U.S. asylum proceedings cannot be considered fair when the Biden administration continues to blatantly violate U.S. refugee laws and treaties,’ she said in a statement.
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 court system with about 1.3 million pending cases.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the effort aligns with his goal of courts deciding cases ‘promptly and fairly.’
Immigrants were issued deportation orders in more than 90 percent of the cases that were decided in the Trump administration’s family unit dockets, according to statistics from the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Review, which runs courts.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at American Council, said the new plan appears to give judges more discretion to grant continuances in families’ cases but he’s concerned because many asylum seekers placed in these special dockets during the last two administrations wound up representing themselves in court.
‘We are very skeptical about yet another attempt to create a ‘rocket docket’ and continued to believe rushed justice is no justice at all,’ he said.
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.