Border-district Democrats call for Biden to revamp asylum process

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Stef W. Kight
·2 min read
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Two border-district Democrats in Congress are pressing the Biden administration to revamp the asylum process, saying the current migrant surge is highlighting significant flaws in the system.

Why it matters: These lawmakers say the administration needs to start making concrete changes by summer. "If it's this bad in 90 days, it's hard to have excuses," Rep. Vicente Gonzalez told Axios.

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Driving the news: Axios met with Gonzalez and Rep. Veronica Escobar last week in their Texas districts, which include the border cities of McAllen and El Paso.

  • Both said better asylum systems and new pathways for Central American migrants can reduce future surges while ensuring humanitarian protections.

  • Migrants must reach the U.S. to claim asylum. They must then prove they have faced — or have "a well-founded fear" — of persecution back home.

  • The claims typically are heard by immigration judges, but the Trump administration made it more difficult to seek asylum in the U.S.

Details: Escobar supports a plan — originally floated by the Migration Policy Institute's Doris Meissner — for immigration officers to adjudicate asylum claims at the border, rather than through backlogged immigration courts.

  • The result would be faster asylum grants.

  • The Biden administration is considering such a plan, a person familiar with a draft plan for regulations told Axios, and NPR also has reported.

  • Escobar said asylum seekers still would need to be able to appeal negative decisions to the immigration courts — and that she'll push for better access to legal counsel for them.

Gonzalez is promoting setting up "safe zones" in southern Mexico or Guatemala.

  • They would be guarded centers where people could stay safely while their claims are processed by U.S. officials.

The big picture: Both lawmakers say their constituents play unique roles in shaping the immigration debate because of how it impacts their everyday lives at the border.

  • Escobar said she's asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for more resources — including more COVID-19 vaccine doses for her district, given El Paso's exposure at the border.

  • It's a "predominantly economically disadvantaged community that needs every resource it can have," she said.

  • Gonzalez said McAllen is still awaiting federal government immigration-related financial reimbursements from 2019.

The bottom line: "Our cities, our municipalities are spread thin," he said.

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