FILE PHOTO: Migrants stand near the border wall after crossing the Rio Bravo river with the intention of turning themselves in to the U.S. Border Patrol agents, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 30, 2023. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration next week will begin testing faster asylum screenings for migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, the Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday, part of preparations for the end of COVID-19 border restrictions in May.
U.S. asylum officers will conduct initial asylum screenings for a small number of migrants within days while they remain in the custody of border authorities, Homeland Security spokesperson Marsha Espinosa said. The interviews will take place over the phone and migrants will have access to legal counsel during the screenings, she said.
U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has implemented new border restrictions in recent months as he grapples with record numbers of migrants caught crossing illegally. Republican former President Donald Trump also used rapid asylum screenings to speed up the resolution of cases but those screenings were conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel and without the guarantee of legal representation.
Since March 2020, U.S. authorities have been able to quickly Rexpel migrants caught crossing the border illegally back to Mexico under a COVID-19 order known as Title 42. The order is set to end on May 11 along with the broader pandemic public health emergency and the Biden administration is bracing for a possible rise in crossings afterward.
The experiment with faster asylum screenings “will inform best practices” if the administration decides to apply it more broadly in the future, Espinosa said. The spokesperson declined to say where on the border it would be implemented next week.
Reuters first reported in December that Biden officials were weighing whether to use the accelerated asylum screenings among other Trump-style restrictions.