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U.S. to empower asylum officials to reject more migrants earlier in process

Examining humanitarian toll on asylum seekers
Examining the humanitarian toll on asylum seekers at the southern border 01:37

The Biden administration is planning to announce a new regulation as early as Thursday that is designed to allow immigration officials to deport migrants who are ineligible for U.S. asylum earlier in the process, three sources familiar with the internal plans told CBS News.

The regulation by the Department of Homeland Security would apply to migrants who ask for asylum after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, according to the sources, who requested anonymity to talk about the rule before its formal announcement.

It would instruct government asylum officers to apply certain barriers to asylum that are already part of U.S. law during so-called credible fear interviews. This is the first step in the years-long asylum process. Those who pass these interviews are allowed to seek asylum before an immigration judge, while those who fail them can be deported expeditiously.

Migrants barred under U.S. law from asylum include those who may pose a danger to public safety or national security. The rule would allow officials to reject and deport migrants in these categories soon after they cross the border. 

The regulation, which is relatively narrow in scope, is one of several actions the Biden administration has been considering to restrict access to the U.S. asylum system amid a spike in applications in recent years, mostly driven by migrants crossing the southern border illegally.

Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. demonstrate on the Rio Grande river to ask for authorization to enter the country, as seen from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on April 25, 2024.
Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. demonstrate on the Rio Grande river to ask for authorization to enter the country, as seen from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on April 25, 2024. HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Representatives for the Department of Homeland Security and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

President Biden is also considering invoking a sweeping presidential authority to enact a broader restriction on asylum ahead of the election in November, sources with knowledge of the deliberations told CBS News. The authority, known as 212(f), allows presidents to suspend the entry of migrants whose arrival is deemed to be detrimental to U.S. interests. Former President Donald Trump invoked the law to justify several immigration restrictions, including a travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries.

The president has not yet announced a final decision on the 212(f) order that has been considered for months.

While the upcoming regulation will not affect massive numbers of migrants, it still reinforces a policy shift by Mr. Biden, who earlier in his presidency promised to "restore" the U.S. asylum system. 

But after record levels of migrant apprehensions along the southern border, including over 2 million in each of the past two years, and an accompanying political backlash, Mr. Biden's administration has enacted and floated more restrictive asylum rules.

Last year, the administration published a regulation that disqualifies migrants from asylum if they enter the U.S. illegally after failing to request humanitarian protection in a third country, like Mexico. 

The administration has coupled that restriction with an unprecedented expansion in channels for would-be migrants to come to the U.S. legally. These include a phone app that lets migrants in Mexico schedule times to be processed at official border crossings and a program that allows some migrants to fly to the U.S. if they have American sponsors.

After spiking to record levels in December, migrant crossings along the southern border have plummeted by over 40% this year. In April, illegal crossings declined to approximately 129,000, the second consecutive monthly drop, according to internal Border Patrol data obtained by CBS News.

U.S. officials say the dramatic drop in migration stems from increased deportations and stepped-up efforts by Mexico to stop migrants from reaching the American border. Texas state officials have also attributed the decline in crossings to their actions, including the miles of razor wire they have set up along stretches of the border.

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