Migrants who enter the United States illegally will be screened by asylum officers while in custody under a limited experiment that provides them access to legal counsel, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday.
This new approach will start with a small number of migrants next week. Officials stated that the trial run is part of preparations for the end of a pandemic-related rule that has suspended rights to seek asylum for many, expected on May 11th.
If expanded, the new screening could bring major change to how people are processed upon reaching U.S. soil to seek asylum.
Homeland Security officials will begin working with a legal services provider that will represent asylum-seekers at initial screenings, known as “credible fear hearings.” Access to legal representation will be critical to the plan moving ahead, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been publicly announced.
The screening interviews will be conducted in large U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary facilities stocked with phone lines that will be used for the hearings, officials said. CBP policy limits detention to 72 hours, which will be the target to complete the screenings.
This experiment is an attempt to shorten the screening process from the current four weeks to less than 72 hours. The administration aims to make asylum processing more efficient, while upholding due process and other protections.
The administration has expelled migrants 2.7 million times under a rule in effect since March 2020 that denies rights to seek asylum under U.S. and international law on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Title 42, as the public health rule is known, is scheduled to end May 11 when the U.S. lifts its last COVID-related restrictions.
Homeland Security officials have estimated illegal entries from Mexico could rise to 13,000 a day after Title 42 expires, compared to about 5,500 in February. Currently, few migrants are screened at the border if they express fear of being returned home and are often released to pursue asylum in backlogged U.S. immigration courts, which takes years.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the initial screening process established a relatively low bar, with 77% passing in March. However, the final approval rate for asylum is much lower, highlighting the need for careful consideration and legal representation during the screening process.