Washington Post editorial board: Migrants are gaming the asylum system

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

In this case the news isn’t the message it’s the messenger. You don’t hear a leading newspaper state the obvious about the immigration crisis every day, certainly not like this.


Long-term stability at the border calls for a sustainable approach to asylum — the promise, enshrined in domestic and international law, of haven for people facing “persecution or well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion” in their countries of origin. It is a noble and necessary commitment. In practice, however, it was being rendered untenable by the sheer number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years, each with a legal right to press an asylum claim. Between those assigned to Justice Department immigration courts and Department of Homeland Security asylum officers, the backlog of cases has reached roughly 1.6 million, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. It can take years just to get a hearing in immigration court.

The wait right now is seven years on average.

Instead of the selective, humanitarian adjunct to general immigration flows that the law intended, asylum is evolving into an open-ended parallel system. The backlog encourages people to make a dangerous and expensive trip to the U.S. border, knowing that — even if their asylum cases are weak — they can live and work in the United States for years pending a ruling. Even those whose claims are rejected, as they were in most final rulings over the past decade, seldom face prompt removal. Meanwhile, those with strong claims wait longer than they should.


I could fault the Post for a few things here. First, the system isn’t “evolving” into this, it has already evolved. It started evolving years ago during the Trump administration and for the past two years it has simply been growing at a tremendous rate as more and more people looking for a better life realize the back door of a bogus asylum claim is always open.

But why criticize when there’s so much here that doesn’t usually wind up in a paper like the post, i.e. the fact that this parallel system is a magnet drawing people in and the fact that people with weak cases get what they want regardless of the procedural outcome because no one ever makes them leave. Maybe if this sort of information was included in every story on this topic, Americans would begin to understand what is happening and why.

For the sake of all concerned — asylum seekers, other potential immigrants and U.S. communities facing migrant surges — the system’s integrity and efficiency need to be restored.

So what’s the solution? Here the Post gives Biden partial credit for expanding the number of legal immigrants available to apply for asylum from their home countries. But they also say more work needs to be done in getting other countries to take more responsibility.


Meanwhile, the United States should seek to share responsibility with other countries to resettle asylum seekers. Mr. Biden needs to engage likely partners in the Americas and beyond, including by offering to support their capacities to absorb and protect people. His new plan sets a precedent by relying on Mexico to take in 30,000 people per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela — which had been refusing to accept returnees from the United States — and turning away more asylum seekers who travel through third countries such as Mexico before crossing the U.S. border.

I’m not certain what “offering to support their capacities to absorb” people means but I suspect it means paying them to do it. That doesn’t seem like mutual responsibility to me. After all, no one is paying us to manage all of this. Why should we have to pay for other countries to do their part?

But this may be a case where realism dictates we just admit certain things, such as the fact that few of these migrants want to live in Mexico or anywhere else. Nearly all of them are coming for jobs and a better life in America. So as the primary driver of this migration maybe it is largely on us to solve the problem or else get content with it not being solved.


At this point, I’d rather pay these countries a few million a year to help us manage this then simply allow the number of migrants who show up unannounced to keep rising to 3 million or more a year. It’s still pretty hard to believe that the Biden White House has any real gut-level interest in dealing with this but at the moment this is the administration we’ve got. Better a half-hearted effort than none at all.

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