This paper critiques US immigration and asylum policies from perspective of the author’s 46 years as a public servant. It also offers a taxonomy of the US immigration system by positing different categories of membership: full members of the “club” (US citizens); “associate members” (lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees); “friends” (non-immigrants and holders of temporary status); and, persons outside the club (the undocumented). It describes the legal framework that applies to these distinct populations, as well as recent developments in federal law and policy that relate to them. It also identifies a series of cross-cutting issues that affect these populations, including immigrant detention, immigration court backlogs, state and local immigration policies, and Constitutional rights that extend to non-citizens. It makes the following asylum reform proposals, relying (mostly) on existing laws designed to address situations of larger-scale migration:
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and, in particular, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should send far more Asylum Officers to conduct credible fear interviews at the border.
- Law firms, pro bono attorneys, and charitable legal agencies should attempt to represent all arriving migrants before both the Asylum Office and the Immigration Courts.
- USCIS Asylum Officers should be permitted to grant temporary withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) to applicants likely to face torture if returned to their countries of origin.
- Immigration Judges should put the asylum claims of those granted CAT withholding on the “back burner” — thus keeping these cases from clogging the Immigration Courts — while working with the UNHCR and other counties in the Hemisphere on more durable solutions for those fleeing the Northern Triangle states of Central America.
- Individuals found to have a “credible fear” should be released on minimal bonds and be allowed to move to locations where they will be represented by pro bono lawyers.
- Asylum Officers should be vested with the authority to grant asylum in the first instance, thus keeping more asylum cases out of Immigration Court.
- If the Administration wants to prioritize the cases of recent arrivals, it should do so without creating more docket reshuffling, inefficiencies, and longer backlogs.