NOEL KING, HOST:
There is an enormous backlog of asylum cases in U.S. immigration courts. There just are not enough judges. The White House, though, has a plan to fix this. Asylum officers at the Department of Homeland Security already make some of the decisions about who gets asylum; the plan is to let them make more. Here's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: When people arrive at the southern border seeking asylum from domestic violence, gangs and persecution, it can take years for their cases to be heard. The backlog is nearly 1.3 million cases, and there are only about 540 judges handling them.
CECILIA MUÑOZ: The system that we have now, which was built decades ago, during the Cold War, is not functioning.
ORDOÑEZ: That Cecilia Muñoz. She was former President Barack Obama's immigration adviser.
MUÑOZ: The notion that you can wait so long before you even have a chance to make your case, it kind of makes a mockery of what it is that we're trying to do.
ORDOÑEZ: President Biden promised to try to fix the system. So his team has proposed a new rule - it would allow asylum officers at the Department of Homeland Security to rule on cases instead of the immigration courts. The plan is based on an idea from Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton administration.
DORIS MEISSNER: If the cases are decided in a timely fashion, then that means that those who are eligible for asylum get to stay in the United States and start a new life. And it also means that those who are not eligible for asylum would need to be returned.
ORDOÑEZ: There are about 860 asylum officers who already handle tens of thousands of these types of cases, just not the ones at the southern border. There are concerns. Some advocates fear it could be used in a way to speed up deportations without due process. Meissner says she agrees that applicants must be able to keep their right to appeal in court. But this change would help give people answers, positive or negative, so that they can get on with their lives.
Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Washington.
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