Tip Sheets

Amid refugee announcement, Biden seeks to relieve a backlogged asylum system

Media Contact

Becka Bowyer

The Biden administration made two major announcements affecting our refugee and asylum systems today, including the acceptance of up to 100,000 Ukrainians over the next few months.

Stephen Yale-Loehr

Professor of immigration law

Stephen Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, co-director of an asylum clinic, and co-author of a leading 21-volume immigration law series, says the announcements will present major challenges.

Yale-Loehr says:

“It is unclear whether the Ukrainians will come as refugees, on humanitarian parole, or on temporary visas. All these systems are backlogged, so it will be a huge operational challenge to process those cases quickly.

“The Department of Homeland Security is about to publish a final rule overhauling the nation’s asylum procedures. The massive 
512-page rule will be officially published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, March 29, and will take effect 60 days later. Overall, the new rule would allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers to initially hear asylum claims, instead of having people go before an immigration judge. The goal is to have a more streamlined asylum system, so that people would get a decision in months rather than years. Right now, more than 1.6 million cases are pending in immigration court.

“Conservative states like Texas are likely to challenge the new rule in court as encouraging more asylum claims. Federal data show that immigration officials are on track to make more than 200,000 detentions along the Mexico border in March, the highest monthly total since August. A perception that the new rules will make it easier to apply for asylum could spur more people to attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

“If the lawsuits are successful, the new rule may not take effect for some time. If implemented, however, the rule would help alleviate backlogs in immigration court and might provide a fairer and faster system for asylum seekers.”

Maria Cristina Garcia

Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies

Maria Cristina Garcia, professor of history and Latina/o studies, is an expert on U.S. migration and refugees.

Garcia says:

“Biden’s announcement that the U.S. will admit 100,000 Ukrainian refugees brings to mind the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956. More than 200,000 Hungarians fled to neighboring Austria during the Soviet crackdown on the Hungarian revolution and the U.S. admitted over 38,000 in order to ease the economic burden on postwar Austria.

“Some Ukrainian refugees brought to the U.S. will have one legal advantage over the Hungarians of ’56. If they are admitted under the Refugee Admissions Program, they will be placed on an immediate path to citizenship. The Hungarians of 1956 were humanitarian parolees who were legally vulnerable to removal until Congress allowed them to adjust their status to permanent residency.  

“The scale of the Ukrainian refugee crisis is much more worrisome – and perhaps intractable – and many nations will need to absorb a share of the 3.7 million refugees.”

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