The US immigration cases of families arriving at the US southern border with Mexico will be fast-tracked in immigration courts, the Biden administration has announced. Under the plans, families stopped at the border could be placed in expedited proceedings aimed at determining whether they can stay in America.
An official statement issued by the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said: “ US immigration judges will generally decide these cases within 300 days of an initial hearing in 10 cities including New York, Los Angeles and border communities such as El Paso, Texas, and San Diego.”
The move isn’t the first time that US government officials have sought to fast-track the US immigration cases of families arriving at the beleaguered US border with Mexico. Both the former Trump and Obama administrations made similar attempts to get such cases resolved quickly in the US immigration courts, which currently face huge backlogs.
The latest version of plans to fast-track immigration cases at the border has been described by the Biden administration as a ‘dedicated docket’, which will allow judges to grant continuances ‘for good cause’, according to instructions that they have received. Meanwhile, the 300-day timeline has been described as an ‘internal goal’.
Plans to fast-track the cases of families arriving at the border comes amid mounting pressure on Biden to ease COVID-pandemic restrictions on seeking asylum in the US, which were put in place by former US President, Donald Trump.
Under current US immigration rules in relation to the southern border, citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico are typically expelled to Mexico within two hours, without the opportunity to seek asylum in the US or other humanitarian protections.
Biden has since exempted unaccompanied children from this rule. However, approximately one in three people arriving as a family are still subject to Trump’s rule as is nearly every single adult.
The Biden administration has eased restrictions slightly, recently agreeing to allow 250 people a day to cross the border into the US to seek refuge. However, immigrant advocates have said that it’s not enough.
They argued that creating dockets to speed up US immigration cases in the courts isn’t fair because it creates delays for other migrants who have already had to wait years for their cases to be heard.
Senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, Eleanor Acer, urged the Biden administration to roll back Trump’s rules that make if difficult for Central American migrants, many of whom are fleeing violence, to qualify for humanitarian protections in the US.
In a statement, Acer said: “US asylum proceedings cannot be considered fair when the Biden administration continues to blatantly violate US refugee laws and treaties.”
US Border Patrol
According to official data, US Border Patrol agents had more than 170,000 ‘encounters’ in April, representing the highest total since March 2001. 50,000 of these were with people traveling in families. It’s understood that many are repeat border crossers because expulsion from the US carries no legal consequences.
The recent Biden administration announcement means that families at the border will be given higher priority than other cases in the US immigration court system, with 1.3 million cases currently pending.
US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, said: “The effort aligns with my goal of US immigration courts deciding cases promptly and fairly.”
Meanwhile, the National Association of Judges is reportedly ‘studying’ the Biden administration’s proposal, according to Dana Marks, an immigration judge and the association’s executive vice president. She said: “The National Association of Judges was not consulted about the plan.”
Under the Trump administration, 90% of cases decided in the family unit dockets resulted in deportation orders being issued, according to data published by the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration review, which runs US immigration courts.
Policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, said: “The new plan appears to give judges more discretion to grant continuances in families’ cases.”
However, he expressed concern because many asylum seekers placed in these special dockets during the last two administrations wound up representing themselves in court.
He said: “We are very skeptical about yet another attempt to create a ‘rocket docket’ and continued to believe rushed justice is no justice at all.”
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