Signature Biden asylum reform policy is now on hold

VIDEO | 01:37
Signature asylum policy that Biden administration championed has been put on hold

Administration officials say the pause is temporary and designed to ensure that the country is prepared for a potential increase in border crossings.

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The Biden administration will pause its signature effort to reform asylum processing at the border, Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed Wednesday.

The so-called asylum processing rule, which the administration launched with great fanfare in 2022, allowed asylum officers to grant and deny asylum to migrants at the southern border.

Administration officials say the pause is a temporary measure designed to ensure that the country’s immigration agencies are prepared for a potential increase in border crossings after the end of Title 42, a pandemic-era policy that allows border agents to quickly turn back migrants.


But critics say the pause signals President Biden’s latest move away from reforming the asylum process and back toward Trump-style restrictions at the southern border.

“It’s tragic to see the administration abandon even minimal progress in favor of recycling Trump policies that are intentional in their cruelty,” said Heidi Altman, policy director at the National Immigrant Justice Center. Altman said that the policy had many problems that needed fixing but that it “represented one of the few efforts by this administration to prioritize humanitarian processing.”

Confusion and anxiety has been building in Ciudad Juarez and El Paso over what appears to be the pending demise of Title 42.

Dec. 23, 2022

Administration officials had hoped that allowing asylum officers to grant or deny asylum would make the lengthy process more efficient and shorten years-long backlogs in immigration courts, which is the primary body that grants or denies asylum after migrants are picked up at the border.

But government officials have worried for months that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees asylum officers, could be overwhelmed by a post-Title 42 surge in border crossings. Title 42 is scheduled to expire May 11.

The pause to the asylum-processing rule halts a policy that never was fully launched. The Department of Homeland Security had limited access to the asylum officer interviews to single adult migrants who were bound for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Miami, Chicago or Newark, N.J.

The administration also plans to limit asylum for migrants who cross the border without authorization and did not apply for protections in a country they passed through on the way to the U.S. That policy, which the administration unveiled in February but has yet to finalize, is Biden’s latest attempt to deter migrants from crossing the southern border without permission.


The administration expanded the use of Title 42 in January by sending migrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras to Mexico. At the same time, it allowed nationals of those countries to apply for entry to the U.S. if they have a financial sponsor.

The administration also is piloting a program under which migrants would have their first asylum screening — known as a credible-fear interview — in Border Patrol custody. Homeland Security officials say that migrants will have access to legal service providers. Advocates have decried that plan and say it will lead to migrants spending more time in border agents’ custody.

Detractors of Biden’s plan to limit asylum access at the southern border say it mirrors former President Trump’s attempt to deny asylum to people who crossed into the U.S. without authorization and did not seek protections in another country on their journey. A federal appeals court blocked that policy in 2020.

Marsha Espinosa, a Homeland Security spokesperson, acknowledged that officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Protection would “pause” sending migrants to asylum officers for processing under the rule. She emphasized that the halt would be temporary and that previously scheduled interviews still will happen.

Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Biden’s Homeland Security secretary, had celebrated the asylum-processing rule when it was finalized in March 2022.

“Through this rule, we are building a more functional and sensible asylum system to ensure that individuals who are eligible will receive protection more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be rapidly removed,” Mayorkas said at the time. “We will process claims for asylum or other humanitarian protection in a timely and efficient manner while ensuring due process.”