When you were in middle school, did you ever have a crush on a classmate? Did you analyze every stray glance and dissect every off-hand comment for signs that your crush liked you too? I feel like that's what we've come to as observers of the asylum system. The mere mention of the words "asylum" and "backlog" by a government bureaucrat in the same sentence has become cause for celebration. My crush knows I exist! Woo Hoo!

Such a momentous event came to pass last week, when the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget ("OMB") included the following paragraph in a letter to the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, summarizing President Biden's "Discretionary Funding Request" for FY2022--

Supports a Humane and Efficient Immigration System. The discretionary request supports the promise of a fair and equitable immigration system that welcomes immigrants and reflects the Nation’s values. The discretionary request provides $345 million for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to address naturalization and asylum backlogs, support up to 125,000 refugee admissions in 2022, and allow for systems and operations modernization. The discretionary request supports expanded access to the Alternatives to Detention program and provides enhanced case management services, particularly for families seeking asylum.

On the one hand, it's clearly good news that someone at OMB understands that an asylum backlog exists at USCIS and that the President hopes to devote additional resources to help reduce it. On the other hand, it's difficult to believe that this proposal will do much to resolve the current problem for affirmative asylum seekers.

First, the "Discretionary Funding Request" is, well, a request. It is not a law and no money has yet been allocated. If the House and Senate agree to the proposal and pass an appropriations bill, and if the President then signs that bill into law, money will be allocated for the backlog. But it seems to me, we are a long way from that point. As with the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, immigration is a hot-button issue, and so it's not easy to believe that the President's proposal will get through Congress unscathed.

Second, it's not clear how much money would actually go towards the affirmative asylum backlog. The $345 million is not only for asylum. It would also be used to reduce the naturalization backlog, modernize USCIS operations, and support up to 125,000 refugee admissions. By comparison, the FY2016 budget provided $268 million for the asylum system and refugee resettlement alone (and not naturalization or modernization). As such, it is unclear how significant of an increase President Biden's proposal represents (especially given that when we adjust the FY2016 budget for inflation, it would be about $300 million in today's dollars). While we can expect some additional money for the asylum system if this budget passes, we really do not know how much, and so we can't yet gauge the impact of this proposal.

Third, it's worth noting that in a DHS statement issued in conjunction with the OMB proposal, Secretary Mayorkas makes no mention of asylum or the backlog. Given that DHS is the agency that would implement any changes to the affirmative asylum system, this silence is not encouraging.

Finally, even if the President's proposals are accepted and the funding is issued, the FY2022 budget does not kick in until October 1 of this year, so we won't see any additional resources (at least from this source of funding) until late 2021. After that, it will presumably take some months before asylum seekers start to reap the benefits of that extra money.

And so while I am happy that the President (or at least someone in the bureaucracy) has noticed the plight of affirmative asylum seekers, I am not convinced that this new proposal is the key to resolving the backlog.

Indeed, as I have written here before, there is a lot that can be done to improve the affirmative asylum process that does require much additional funding. There is also much that can be done to improve the situation for those who are waiting in the backlog. I hope that the Biden Administration will not limit itself to one path or the other. The backlog is a big problem, and it requires a multipronged solution. The possibility of more money in the future is a step in the right direction, but without other changes, money alone is not enough.

Given the hostility of the prior Administration, we advocates should acknowledge and celebrate the positive developments and proposals that we have seen during the first three months of Mr. Biden's term. And then we should push for more.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www,Asylumist.com