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Will Supreme Court Asylum Order Help To Ease Backlog Of Cases?


President Trump's administration argues that a move to block many asylum seekers could actually help some. Ken Cuccinelli, a top administration official, made the case yesterday in a talk with Rachel Martin. He was defending a new rule that will make it harder for many Central American migrants to seek refuge in the U.S.


KEN CUCCINELLI: I point to the crisis at the border plus our 330,000 asylum case backlog, which we're desperately trying to attack and get down. That alone is a reason for this.

INSKEEP: Well, what does this rule mean for an overloaded system? We've brought in Paul Grussendorf, who oversaw the processing of many asylum claims before he retired as a federal asylum officer this summer. Welcome to the studios.


INSKEEP: I guess we have different asylum seekers. They're in different parts of the process, even different parts of the world. What does this rule mean for someone in Central America who is trying to come here to the United States?

GRUSSENDORF: Well, it means - as it's intended, actually - that virtually anyone who arrives at our southern border and asks for asylum will be barred from the U.S. asylum process.

INSKEEP: Oh, because they've been told you should have applied in Mexico or some other country first.

GRUSSENDORF: That's right. The so-called third country transit rule.

INSKEEP: Now, that sounds bad for asylum seekers. But let's explore Ken Cuccinelli's case that it actually could be good for some of them. He says that ultimately only 10 to 15% of asylum claims that are made are, in the final analysis, found to be legitimate. Most of the people have to go back at some point. Is that correct?

GRUSSENDORF: Well, he's referring to the credible fear standard, which of course it's intended to be a high rate of referral to the immigration courts because it's a very brief and somewhat superficial screening. But I'm - I think that they're probably playing with the numbers of the ultimate success rate in the immigration courts.

But nevertheless, we're talking about genuine refugees here who are fleeing extreme conditions, life-threatening conditions. Many of their families have already seen violence and death, kidnapping, assault. And so these are genuine refugees that, in America's tradition, would - we would welcome them. And we would recognize that they will also be a boon to the country.

INSKEEP: You have no doubt, then, that there are some legitimate refugees, people who would deserve refugee status who won't have a chance at all to get it?

GRUSSENDORF: No doubt at all. Not too long ago - at the end of 2016 - I was working for the U.S. government in El Salvador, the Central American Minor (ph) program. And we spoke to hundreds of teenagers and their guardians who had very legitimate stories of either being told, listen, kid, you can either traffic drugs for me, or you'll be dead tomorrow, or fathers who were told, give us your daughter, or your whole family will be dead next week. And I would hope that an American father who got that message - that he would flee also.

INSKEEP: We played a little bit of Cuccinelli's interview in which he said, listen, we've got hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for court hearings. There's a huge backlog. Is it, in some way, humane to not let more people in for a while until that backlog is burned down and cases get taken care of?

GRUSSENDORF: Well, the problem is, of course, that, first of all, our statute - the asylum statute - mandates that no one should be returned to an unsafe country. And so the rule requires that people be returned to Mexico or Guatemala. Our own State Department has clarified that neither country is safe even for their own citizens and that neither country has an adequate asylum process to process even the numbers of people who are arriving now.

INSKEEP: Wow. So burning down the backlog might be problematic. Mr. Grussendorf, thanks so much.

GRUSSENDORF: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Paul Grussendorf served as a supervisory asylum officer for the U.S. government and wrote about that in a book called "My Trials: Inside America's Deportation Factories." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.