What happens to asylum seekers who are not granted refugee status? That’s where the political fight really heats up. The Trump Administration says the problem is that after asylum seekers pass their credible-fear interviews, they are released from custody to await their date in immigration court—a -system Trump calls “catch and release.” With a backlog of 791,821 cases, new court dates are often months or years in the future. In fiscal year 2018, immigration judges completed just over 34,000 cases originating with a credible-fear referral, according to federal data. In nearly a third of those cases—10,534—migrants failed to show up at their scheduled court hearing.
Krikorian, the immigration hard-liner, sees evidence of bad faith at every stage of the asylum process. “Half of the people who say they have a fear and want to apply for asylum never bother after they are let go into the country,” he says. From 2008 to 2018, 53% of migrants who submitted to a credible-fear interview actually filed for asylum, according to federal data. He also claims that some who do apply for asylum expect to be denied but can benefit in the meanwhile: if more than 180 days elapse without a decision on a migrant’s immigration case, the migrant becomes eligible for a work permit. “They know they are going to be turned down,” he says, “but they get a year or two in the U.S. while they’re working.”
Padilla, the longtime Border Patrol chief, argues asylum seekers should be held in detention until their court date. The population of asylum seekers “keeps growing exponentially because they’re actually being released into the community,” he says.