Jesuit Refugee Service/USA: Senate Border Bill Narrows Access to Asylum

20 May 2024

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Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) recently reintroduced the Border Act of 2024 (S.4361). Initially included in a supplemental funding package earlier this year, this stand-alone bill would create a new authority that would make expulsions mandatory if migrant encounters at the border reach an average of 5,000 per day per week or over 8,500 in a single day. The bill would also raise the credible fear standard, increase immigration detention, and place asylum seekers in a rapid screening process with limited access to counsel.   

JRS/USA has expressed significant concern on how the bill would impact those seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and reiterates those same concerns with the reintroduction of the bill. Closing the border to asylum-seekers based on a certain number of encounters on a given day prevents vulnerable individuals and families from accessing their right to seek asylum. Instead of restrictions, the U.S. government should prioritize administrative efficiency – including reducing the lengthy time the asylum process now takes.    

The asylum process urgently requires the same focus it received from 1992 to 1995 when reforms were required to address huge and snowballing backlogs. Today, applicants must wait for an asylum interview for years, with an average asylum decision made four years after the initial filing. The U.S. government should take all steps necessary to improve the quality and efficiency of the U.S. asylum system. Such reforms will require investing in well trained officers at U.S. ports of entry to manage recent arrivals, while also hiring (or rehiring former) asylum officers and immigration judges to immediately address and reduce the backlog of over one million asylum claims pending. 

“While JRS supports efforts to improve and streamline the asylum process, this bill would arbitrarily limit the right to apply for asylum and endanger those who need protection by placing significant restrictions on access to asylum,” said Kelly Ryan, President of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. “By attempting to limit eligibility for positive credible fear determinations and asylum, many refugees seeking protection would be barred from protection.  

“Asylum is a fundamental part of U.S. law. Streamlining and improving the U.S. asylum process can and should be made without recourse to narrowing eligibility. Congress should not give in to pressure to narrow access to asylum. We urge Congress to demand administrative improvements permitting the U.S. to implement a fair, effective, and efficient asylum system.”