American Opinion: This land of immigrants: How we can help asylum-seekers, and ourselves

From the editorial: Here, Congress should step in with some key tweaks, among them allowing asylum-seekers to begin working to support themselves after their cases have passed the first hurdle.

Immigrants keep warm by a fire at dawn after spending the night outside next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence on Dec. 22, 2022, in El Paso, Texas.
Immigrants keep warm by a fire at dawn after spending the night outside next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence on Dec. 22, 2022, in El Paso, Texas.
(John Moore/Getty Images/TNS)
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New York Mayor Eric Adams headed to El Paso, Texas, over the weekend to see the other end of the flow of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers pouring into Port Authority, as Americans find themselves wondering how things ended up like this and what can be done about it.

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It shouldn’t be up to Adams alone or his host, El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser. This is a national situation and needs to be addressed on the national level.

For starters, shutting down the border or stopping all asylum claims is ludicrous, immoral and illegal. But so is accepting chaos and official inaction, which is what Adams and Leeser have been trying to deal with coming from Washington. It’s up to the federal government to effectively manage the population movement, ensuring an asylum evaluation process that is both complete and efficient.

Washington should also help place migrants awaiting the outcomes of these claims in communities that are prepared to welcome and support them, both through multilateral engagement with local and state governments to determine need and capacity and direct funding support for the localities shouldering the brunt.

What we’ve seen so far is the absence of any concerted approach, which ironically is probably driven in part by the Biden administration’s fear that getting too involved will make it seem weak on immigration. What President Joe Biden could really do to show he has a handle on things is have Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas pick up the phone and start calling mayors and governors. Illinois has large pockets of well-established immigrants; so do Minnesota and California and other parts of New York itself. Buffalo has been revitalized by the arrival of thousands of refugees, and could certainly accommodate some new asylum-seekers.


These shouldn’t be pretty-please asks. They should come with a dollar figure attached, a flexible and assured funding stream that will cover the real costs of hospitality for our vulnerable new arrivals. Providing food and shelter and legal services is right and moral, but that doesn’t make it cheap, and foisting these costs on localities does more than strain their budgets: It turns more of the public against migrants, a counterproductive move that only makes it harder to shore up the community support that can soften their landing and be better for everyone.

As to the nuts and bolts of the claims, human decency and federal law require that each individual asylum case be fairly adjudged. There are too many who have tried to undermine the system by pointing out that not everyone who applies ends up being eligible, and seizing on every instance of an immigrant committing a crime or otherwise falling below their standards.

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Of course, a substantial number of claims are unsuccessful, at least in part because the standards for asylum itself are quite narrow and the evidence can be hard to conclusively establish. That’s the whole reason we have a complex process in place to determine eligibility, and access to that process is an inviolable principle. To suggest that it should be dumped because many people are unsuccessful is akin to suggesting we do away with trials because many people are convicted.

Instead of throwing all of these cases into the courts, the administration should expand its use of a new program to have the cases initially decided bureaucratically, but avoid the temptation of speeding cases through without proper due process.

There’s a good reason these cases are complex, which is that wrongly deciding them can quite literally send a person back to great harm. Here, Congress should step in with some key tweaks, among them allowing asylum-seekers to begin working to support themselves after their cases have passed the first hurdle. It makes no sense to keep them dependent on public assistance and then complain about the cost of taking care of them.

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