Improving the U.S. Asylum System – An Immigration Expert’s View

Anyone who follows the news even casually might be forgiven for believing that the U.S. is in the throes of an unprecedented immigration crisis. What most prominent headlines completely neglect to acknowledge, however, is that the perils are rooted in politics — not some sudden, mysterious influx of asylum seekers. In other words, this humanitarian crisis stems from correctable federal immigration policies and practices.

Immigration defies simple solutions, but few would argue that the system couldn’t use improvement. Here are some ideas based on informed legal perspectives.

Fight the Causes, Not the Symptoms

Asylum policies exist to help needy individuals who have nowhere else to turn. It makes sense that policymakers would want to solve the issues that drive so many migrants to seek better lives.

The U.S. must commit to cooperating with these governments to tackle humanitarian challenges. By addressing international concerns, such as poverty, food security, and chronic violence, America stands to mitigate demand on its own system without resorting to barbaric practices, such as mass detention and family separation. Diplomacy may prove particularly useful in regions where the U.S. already has a physical presence or history of involvement.

Give Seekers Better Options Than Detention

Detention might seem like an obvious solution to unauthorized immigration, but it just makes already-desperate situations worse. Furnishing asylum seekers with superior alternatives has numerous advantages.

Initiatives like the Department of Homeland Security’s Family Case Management Program are associated with higher immigration law compliance and hearing attendance. Detention is also costly. ICE’s fiscal year 2018 budget showed that taxpayers spent around $134 per adult detention bed per day and as much as $775 per day to care for each separated child. Providing more alternative routes to legal citizenship and focusing less on punitive measures could be the answers.

Give Seekers the Right to Counsel

Asylum seekers are up against quite a lot. Coming to America is a stressful, invasive process. Many also confront a new language and a legal system that vastly differs from what they expect.

As with ordinary courts, government-funded legal representation makes sense for the asylum system. Bodies like the Homeland Security Advisory Council support the idea of furnishing migrants with attorneys, and most judges agree that such a change would improve efficiency. After all, migrants who have lawyers tend to make fewer spurious claims, and they also receive fairer hearings.

Make Immigration Courts Self-sustaining

In its rush to consolidate power over the asylum process, the Trump Administration placed significant constraints on the DoJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR. No longer can judges administratively terminate cases, and new interpretations of old laws mean that courts have to tread carefully when performing their duties.

Restoring independence to EOIR courts will help the system operate more smoothly and keep cases from becoming quite as vulnerable to politicization. By recasting its broken asylum system in the same separated-powers mold of its federal government, the U.S. can lessen the burdens imposed on vulnerable migrants, agencies, and increasingly globalized communities.