The President and his allies are doing everything in their power to subvert the result of last month's election. So far, their efforts have not changed the outcome, but we are still in a very dangerous place. Hopefully, the system and our country will withstand this unprecedented assault on democracy and the rule of law. If so, and if Joe Biden assumes office in January, he will face a number of daunting challenges: The pandemic and healthcare, the economy, climate change, divisiveness and decaying faith in democracy, racial justice, and immigration reform, to name the most obvious. How much attention immigration--and specifically asylum--will receive in this mix remains to be seen.

Prior to the election, the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign set forth their proposals for immigration reform, which are quite sweeping. Many of Mr. Biden's ideas can only be enacted with the cooperation of Congress. Others could be put into effect without Congressional action, just as President Trump implemented his immigration agenda through agency rulemaking and executive orders.

A minority of the immigration policy changes proposed by Mr. Biden relate specifically to asylum, and most of these concern asylum seekers at the Southern border. This is not surprising, as the border is a disaster, but my concern is that applicants at the Asylum Office and in Immigration Court--which together represent close to two million people--will be overlooked.

In this series of posts, I hope to set forth my ideas for reforming and improving our nation's asylum system.

Before we discuss substance, however, I want to talk politics, since any reform will take place in the context of the current political crisis where, even in the best case, millions of Americans will view Mr. Biden's Administration as illegitimate and where many Republican leaders will be vying to outdo each other in obstructing the new President's agenda. The divisive political climate will potentially limit Mr. Biden's ability to make changes, and in turn, any changes he manages to implement could lead to further division. This begs the question: Should the new Administration follow the Trump game plan, and do all within its power to achieve its goals? Or is it better to focus on areas of bipartisan agreement (if any can be found)?

I'm of two minds about this dilemma. On the one hand, non-citizens in our country have been treated unfairly and cruelly. They have been lied about (and to), terrorized, exploited, and in many cases, forced to wait for years for status to which they are legally entitled. Also, when President Obama tried to take a middle road on immigration (remember when he was referred to as the "Deporter-in-Chief"?), it did nothing to move the other side towards compromise. Perhaps that's because there is a stark partisan divide over illegal immigration: Only 23% of Democrats view it as a "big problem," while 67% of Republicans see it that way. So if compromise is impossible, maybe the Biden Administration's better approach is to implement whatever reforms it can manage regardless of the political consequences.

On the other hand, what is most needed now is to try to heal the divisions in our nation. Pushing through partisan immigration reforms (legislatively or administratively) will likely exacerbate the divide. Further, if President Biden overplays his hand on immigration, it could result in a backlash that advantages Republicans and other immigration restrictionists. Of course, the same predicament exists for other issues--like climate change--and the idea of waiting for a broader consensus when action is needed imminently makes little sense. Immigrants and asylum seekers urgently need relief and protection. So while ideally I believe it would be best to reach out to moderate Republicans and to continue working to educate the public about immigration, I also believe that we need to start enacting changes immediately.

That said, I think the Biden Administration needs to move with caution. Some immigration issues--such as DACA and (surprisingly) refugee resettlement--have broader bipartisan support than others, such as border security and deporting people who are here illegally. Certainly, the new Administration can focus on areas where it will encounter less resistance and face fewer negative repercussions.

The proposals I will make in this series fall, I think, on the more bipartisan side of the spectrum. I plan to discuss ideas for improving efficiency and fairness at the Asylum Office, the Immigration Court, and at USCIS.

In contrast to Mr. Biden's pre-election policy agenda, my focus in this series will not be the Southern border. Protecting asylum seekers at the border is a more divisive issue than most other areas of immigration law, and I believe that advocates and policy-makers need to lay a political foundation before enacting successful change there. I've written about this in more detail before, but unless we build a more bipartisan consensus about who is eligible for asylum, we risk a severe backlash by easing restrictions at the Southern border. Indeed, one could argue that President Trump was elected largely as a reaction against perceived porous borders.

While the politics of border reform is a crucial concern, the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border is clearly untenable--people are dying and something needs to be done. How the Biden Administration will navigate that political minefield, I do not know, but I worry that the political capital required for improving conditions at the border will make it more difficult to enact needed changes in other, less politically-charged regions of the immigration system, such as USCIS, the Asylum Office, and the Immigration Court. In any event, those three areas will be the subject of the next several posts on this blog.

President Trump's (hoped for) departure will open up some space to improve the situation for non-citizens: By reversing many of his Administration's damaging immigration policies, but also--hopefully--by bringing long-needed improvements to the immigration system. The trick will be to balance that change with the current political realities, to minimize the inevitable counter-reaction, and to avoid doing further damage to the cohesion of our nation.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: