On March 24, 2022, the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice announced an interim final rule to “improve and expedite processing of asylum claims made by noncitizens subject to expedited removal, ensuring that those who are eligible for asylum are granted relief quickly, and those who are not are promptly removed.”

The rule authorizes asylum officers to consider the asylum applications of individuals subject to expedited removal who assert a fear of persecution or torture and pass the required credible fear screening, USCIS noted. Currently, the agency said, such cases are decided only by immigration judges.

Due to existing court backlogs, USCIS said, the process for hearing and deciding these asylum cases takes several years on average. “When fully implemented, the reforms and new efficiencies will shorten the process to several months for most asylum applicants covered by this rule,” the agency said.

Advocates expressed concerns that asylum seekers whose cases are denied could be hindered in obtaining legal representation. Jennifer Ibañez Whitlock, an immigration attorney and policy counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), said, “If somebody is not approved in the first instance, they’re going to be required to go through a pretty fast process to appeal. I firmly believe it’s going to affect people’s ability to get a lawyer.” In a statement released on March 24, 2022, AILA said that while the rule includes some positive changes, the organization is “gravely concerned about the tight deadlines and rapid scheduling of hearings which will curtail due process and interfere with the ability to obtain legal representation. Missing from the announcement is any reference to legal orientation, funded legal representation, or even basic know-your-rights presentations for individuals placed through these hearings or language access plans.”

The interim final rule modifies a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in response to public comments received following the NPRM issued by the two departments in August 2021. The rule will take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is expected to occur on March 29, 2022. The departments said they encourage further public comment on the rule during the 60-day comment period.

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