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July 2022, Volume 28, Number 3

Migrants, Asylum

The US had 47 million foreign-born residents in April 2022, including 11.5 million unauthorized foreigners, so that 14.3 percent of US residents were born abroad. The covid pandemic slowed inflows of legal and unauthorized foreigners in 2020, but both inflows surged in 2021-22. The number of foreign-born US residents doubled between 1990 and 2022.

The Biden administration has struggled over the past 18 months to deal with unauthorized migration. Candidate Biden promised to reverse many Trump-era policies that kept foreigners out of the US, but DHS was not prepared for the surge of unauthorized migrants and asylum seekers in 2021-22.

CBP encountered over 200,000 unauthorized migrants a month or about 8,000 a day in spring 2022. Most apprehended migrants have friends and relatives inside the US who help to pay the smugglers who guide them into the US, and then provide them with housing and support if they are released into the US.

Asylum. Refugees are persons outside their country of citizenship who say that they face persecution at home, and a government agency has agreed and designated them refugees. Asylum seekers, by contrast, are persons in another country who asked to be recognized as refugees. Most refugees are from developing countries and are in other developing countries, such as Syrians in Turkey or Venezuelans in Colombia, while most asylum seekers are from developing countries and seeking asylum in industrial countries.

The US resettles 125,000 refugees a year, the most of any country. There is no limit on the number of asylum applicants, which topped 300,000 in FY21 as Central Americans and others crossed the Mexico-US border and applied for asylum.

In order to avoid returning asylum applicants to countries where they face persecution, immigration judges consider whether each individual faces persecution at home. Many asylum applicants are seeking higher wages and more opportunities in the US, and over 80 percent of Central American asylum applicants are rejected.

There are over a million asylum applicants in the US, and many settle in the US with or near US relatives before there is a final decision on their application, making them reluctant to leave if denied asylum. Biden reversed Trump-era policies and allowed asylum seekers to cite domestic or gang violence as reasons to seek asylum in the US. Asylum cases take an average five years to process, so migrants who are allowed to enter the US and apply for asylum can live and work legally in the US for at least several years.

Some 125,000 Cubans arrived in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift, and another 30,000 reached Florida in 1994 before the US agreed to select 20,000 Cubans a year via lottery for family unification. Haitians have been arriving by boat in south Florida after making a 700-mile trip in a week or more. The Coast Guard intercepted an average four boats a month with an average 150 Haitians each in 2022.

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