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A new rule might speed up asylum claims at the Southern border


The Biden administration has proposed a new rule intended to speed up the asylum claims process at the southern border. It says this rule is about making the country safer rather than curbing illegal migration. That's something the Biden administration has been under fire for. NPR's immigration reporter, Sergio Martinez-Beltran joins me with more. Hey, there.


KELLY: Tell me more about this new rule. What is it? How would it work?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Sure. So this new immigration rule would be used to quickly deny migrants with criminal records their asylum claim. Right now, a migrant trying to enter the U.S. with no legal visa can ask for a credible fear interview in which a person states that it could be subject to persecution or torture in their home country. If that person gets cleared, they can enter the country and start applying for asylum, and their criminal background is considered at a later time.

Under this new rule, though, asylum officials would be able to quickly reject an asylum claim if that person's criminal history is deemed to pose a threat to national security. In that case, this person would be subject to deportation. And, you know, all of this could happen pretty quick. Now, this ruling is expected to have a fairly narrow impact because DHS was already denying asylum to people with links to terrorist organizations, so they're now trying to do it faster.

KELLY: A narrow impact, you said, so not likely to hugely impact the number of illegal crossings there at the southern border?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Right, right - not really. A DHS senior official told reporters today this rule is intended to be a national security and public safety measure. DHS couldn't provide a number of how many people they estimate would be denied their asylum claim under this rule. Now, Theresa Cardinal Brown is the director of immigration policy at the D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center. She says the impact on the border would be minimal.

THERESA CARDINAL BROWN: It is a rule that applies when you have an asylum officer that is conducting a credible fear interview during an expedited removal case. And it's a minority of people arriving at the border that are being put into expedited removal, much less having credible fear hearings.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Brown says this rule could have more implications if there are more substantial changes to the asylum process at the border, like increasing the number of asylum officers conducting the interviews there.

KELLY: Yeah. OK, but if the impact would indeed be minimal, how far is this new rule going to go in terms of satisfying criticism of the president and his border policy?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Well, it seems like it's not going that far, right? I mean, it's important to note that President Trump tried to put in place a similar rule, and that was enjoined by a court. So the expectation is that this one by President Biden could also be challenged and end the same way. And again, Republicans have been using immigration to go after President Biden. Immigration is one of the main issues.

So again, this is not likely to make happy those who want Biden to be tougher at the border. Now, for immigrant rights groups, this new proposal also doesn't make sense. Raha Wala is the vice president for strategic partnerships and advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center. He says this is part of a longstanding effort to curtail the due process rights of asylum-seekers.

RAHA WALA: There's almost no evidence under the current system that any terrorists or criminals are getting in on any sort of systematic basis through the asylum system. This has long been really a false concern.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Wala says he fears bona fide asylum-seekers will end up being returned to their countries, where they could face threats and even death.

KELLY: What is the timing? Do we know when this rule would go into effect?

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Well, the rule was just announced by DHS. Next week, the agency will make it official, and it will undergo a public comment period of 30 days - so TBD on when, specifically. But DHS says they expect a final rule this year in a fair and expeditious manner.

KELLY: All right. Thanks for tracking it for us.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: You're welcome.

KELLY: That is Sergio Martinez-Beltran. He covers immigration for NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (SARE-he-oh mar-TEE-nez bel-TRAHN) is an immigration correspondent based in Texas.