Republican states ask to block changes to asylum

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Republicans on Thursday launched new attempts to prevent the administration of President Joe Biden from changing the way asylum claims are handled at the US border: Texas and Arizona asked courts to block new procedures that could decide cases of asylum in months, instead of years.

The demands are part of a busy week around the country’s immigration policies. The federal Supreme Court questioned a rule that requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for the resolution of their cases, and a federal judge in Louisiana temporarily suspended the gradual elimination of asylum restrictions put in place when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

This has the federal government defending the planned modifications to asylum programs on all fronts. These now include new rules that would empower asylum officials to grant or deny applications, an authority that has been limited to immigration judges for people arriving at the Mexican border.

Thirteen states, all with Republican governors or attorneys general, joined Arizona in a lawsuit filed in Louisiana. Texas filed a similar lawsuit.

“This is nothing more than a sweeping attempt to establish a system that encourages illegal immigration and undermines the rule of law,” said Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has said the new procedures will reduce the burden on immigration courts, which are part of the Justice Department.

The Biden administration estimated last year that it would need to hire 800 more staff so asylum officers can handle about 75,000 cases a year. Without more money and new jobs, it’s unclear how much of an impact the move will initially have.

The United States has been the world’s most popular destination for asylum seekers since 2017, according to the UN refugee agency, putting enormous pressure on immigration courts. The number of pending cases has skyrocketed to nearly 1.7 million.

The states involved in the lawsuit also sued to preserve the so-called Title 42 rule, which denies immigrants the opportunity to apply for asylum under the argument of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

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