The Biden administration released last week initial results from its improvised plan, announced by President Biden on Jan. 5, to stem migration over the U.S.-Mexico border: a 97 percent decrease in attempted border crossings by Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans since Dec. 11. Still, Mr. Biden’s plan is only a short-term fix.

Long-term stability at the border calls for a sustainable approach to asylum — the promise, enshrined in domestic and international law, of haven for people facing “persecution or well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion” in their countries of origin. It is a noble and necessary commitment. In practice, however, it was being rendered untenable by the sheer number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years, each with a legal right to press an asylum claim. Between those assigned to Justice Department immigration courts and Department of Homeland Security asylum officers, the backlog of cases has reached roughly 1.6 million, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. It can take years just to get a hearing in immigration court.

Instead of the selective, humanitarian adjunct to general immigration flows that the law intended, asylum is evolving into an open-ended parallel system. The backlog encourages people to make a dangerous and expensive trip to the U.S. border, knowing that — even if their asylum cases are weak — they can live and work in the United States for years pending a ruling. Even those whose claims are rejected, as they were in most final rulings over the past decade, seldom face prompt removal. Meanwhile, those with strong claims wait longer than they should.


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