Another year, another US border crisis. Could 2023 be different?


Border issues are increasingly complex, and the U.S. immigration system remains outdated and under-resourced. 

More fundamental changes are possible – and needed – analysts say, pointing to recent programs focused on Ukrainian and Venezuelan migrants. But there needs to be popular and political will as well.

Why We Wrote This

U.S. immigration reform has been needed for a generation. But amid rancor over the border, immigration experts point to Ukrainian refugees as an example of how policy can be successfully adapted for modern times. They point to it, right now, as an isolated example.

The Biden administration has been trying to bolster the asylum system.

This spring, the Department of Homeland Security began piloting a new asylum officer processing rule intended to resolve asylum requests within months instead of years. Last year, the Biden administration launched a new Dedicated Docket in immigration courts for families seeking asylum at the southwest border.

The program has sped up asylum cases, but fairness has suffered, according to a report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. Only about one-third of families had representation in their cases, while about two-thirds of families never filed asylum applications before their cases were closed.

Meanwhile, the case backlog in immigration courts has continued to grow.

“There [is] no quick fix for the country’s asylum backlog,” said the TRAC report. “The evidence suggests that the United States can implement schemes to make asylum cases fast or make asylum cases fair, but not both.”

Heading into the new year, the Biden administration’s actions at the southwest border have come under intense scrutiny.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been reporting record numbers of encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border, as the COVID-19 pandemic and other global crises have compounded the challenges facing a U.S. immigration system ill-equipped to process large numbers of asylum-seekers.

After criticizing the Trump administration’s approach to these challenges as inhumane and ineffective – including the forced separation of families and the rapid expulsion of migrants under a pandemic-era public health order – the Biden administration has only recently begun implementing a different approach. And critics say the approach has only been different in parts.

Why We Wrote This

U.S. immigration reform has been needed for a generation. But amid rancor over the border, immigration experts point to Ukrainian refugees as an example of how policy can be successfully adapted for modern times. They point to it, right now, as an isolated example.

Court battles have drawn out some of these policy changes, and while some Trump-era programs have been ended, others have been maintained – and even expanded. Chronic issues, like the growing backlog of cases in immigration courts, persist. Partnerships, primarily between the United States and Mexico, are strengthening, while strained ties with other Latin American nations hamper cooperation.

In sum, the Biden administration is caught between migration patterns that are increasingly hemispheric and organized, and domestic political head winds focused on border security. As border issues grow more complex, the U.S. immigration system remains outdated and under-resourced. 



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