The Department of Homeland Security unveils a new plan to solve the case backlog of asylum seekers

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – The Department of Homeland Security has embarked on a plan to reduce a years-long backlog of asylum cases.

Because of a process that allows asylum officials to approve or deny a case instead of going before a judge, judges won’t see many new asylum cases.

Migrants seeking asylum and traveling to certain cities will now take part in an asylum process instead of seeing their case in court. The process will potentially shorten the wait from years to possibly just a few months.

“Instead of an immigration judge ruling these cases, they will allow asylum officials to determine whether or not the applicant can be granted asylum in the United States,” Houston immigration attorney Rebekah Rodriguez said.

DHS confirms that they have approximately 100 trained Asylum Officers to undertake this task.

The agency’s goal is to minimize the long list of cases that still have to go before a judge.

“It would take years. We have some cases initiated in 2013 (and) 2012 that have not yet had their first hearing or perhaps recently had their first hearing and are scheduled for their final asylum hearing,” Rodriguez said.

The new DHS plan is still in its infancy as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services await additional resources.

Asylum officials will initially focus on refugees who want to go to Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco or Newark.

“It’s a pilot project at this particular moment, so they’ve chosen most of the city’s refugees seeking asylum, and I’m sure they’ll continue to push it like other new rules as long as the program is successful,” Rodriguez said.

When an asylum officer rejects a person’s case. They are allowed to challenge their case before a judge.

“If the way it’s going to work is how it’s going to be released. It will not work. It will make things worse,” Rodriguez said.

This new plan came nearly two weeks after Title 42 extended the public health emergency rule that allowed the government to turn away migrants, even asylum-seekers.

The country expects that many asylum seekers will enter the US once this rule is lifted.

“People flee because they are afraid. Or people flee because they can’t feed their families,” says Ruben Garcia, manager of the El Paso refugee home.

Many of these families in a non-profit refugee shelter in El Paso have fled to our country for some reason in search of a better life for themselves or their children.

“When people flee, they know what the conditions are and they have become unbearable, they have to go. Then the question is, my God, where am I going?” said García.

Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States must belong to one of five categories: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and membership of a particular social group.

“A person who is really an asylum seeker wants to solve their case as soon as possible. So that she can get on with her life. Having seven to eight years and not being able to work adequately without having real status is very hard for them refugees trying to escape the violence in their own countries,” Rodriguez said.

USCIS officials tell ABC13 that there are plans to expand the Asylum Division once they receive resources and build capacity. DHS will refer a few hundred undocumented immigrants for a USCIS Asylum Merits interview each month after migrants have followed a positive credible fear determination.

They say this new plan streamlines and simplifies the process for certain people found at or near the border. USCIS says it aims to build a more functional and sane system for processing asylum claims, for which immigration attorneys like Rodriguez are grateful.

For updates on this story, follow Daniela Hurtado on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Dais Johnston

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