Homeland Security has reached a “crisis” in the asylum system with illegal immigrants gaming the system, the department said Wednesday, announcing new changes to try to speed things up so undeserving applicants can be deported.
The backlog reached 311,000 cases as of Jan. 21, “making the system increasingly vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency within Homeland Security that handles legal immigration.
To try to make headway, USCIS said it will prioritize the latest applications for the fastest review.
“Delays in the timely processing of asylum applications are detrimental to legitimate asylum seekers,” said USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. “Lingering backlogs can be exploited and used to undermine national security and the integrity of the asylum system.”
Analysts say prioritizing new applications for fastest review is a way of speeding up deportations for those who don’t qualify for asylum. If those back home see people being turned away for frivolous requests, they may decline to make the journey in the first place.
The move is the sort of executive action President Trump can make on his own, without Congress, to try to change the incentives that are feeding the new wave of illegal immigration.
Those who are applying for asylum are granted work permits, giving them a foothold in the U.S. while they await cases that can take years to complete.
Asylum is the system for protecting foreigners who are already inside the U.S. Refugees are those applying for protections from their home countries, hoping for entry.
The asylum program has become strained in recent years as illegal immigrants, coached by smuggling cartels and relatives who’ve already made it to the U.S., have learned the “magic words” to game the system.
The situation is so extreme that illegal immigrants are now coached to cross into the country and actively seek out a Border Patrol agent, to whom they can make their asylum claims.