But last year, 800,000 people applied for asylum, and that’s a 63 percent jump from the year before. So it might not be a new problem, but it certainly is an increasing problem. It is most certainly that. We return to what we discussed just a few minutes ago. Why are more people fleeing their home countries? Why are they seeking asylum in the United States?
But the asylum system as it stands right now is essentially one of the best ways of getting into and staying in the United States. Because it does take years. And as we’ve mentioned, you get to the border, you say you’re looking for asylum. And part of the problem is determining who has legitimate claims. So not everyone who is coming and asking for asylum is actually a legitimate asylum seeker. Migrants, as we’ve said, understand and know how the system works. I’ve been at the border. I’ve been with migrants. Some of them are fleeing persecution, but some of them are understandably coming here to look for a better life. Absolutely correct. And our asylum system is designed where there’s an initial evidentiary threshold that one must meet. One must demonstrate credible fear of persecution, and that is by law intentionally a low standard, and the policy behind that is to ensure that we do not mistakenly return someone to persecution. And so it is a low standard. The ultimate standard of asylum, the merits stage — that standard is higher, and the difficulty is that a great number qualify under that lower standard and have historically, and far fewer qualify ultimately, but the time in between those moments of adjudication is years.
I guess I wonder if you broadly feel like the system of asylum as it was conceived 70 years ago by the United Nations meets this moment that you have said is so different from what has come before? I think the asylum system is in need of reform. It is why three senators have been leading the charge in seeking to reform it. And I won’t go into great detail about what those reforms should be because, in fact, that is the subject of the legislation that is being negotiated.
I want to ask you about one provision of that Senate bill. President Biden recently spoke out in support of the provision and said it would grant him the authority to shut the border down once border encounters reach a certain number. Do you support that idea? And do you think it’s practical? You know, I don’t want to delve into what the legislation will and will not contain. I won’t do that. I have to respect the senatorial process that is well underway.
Do you think that what’s happening at the Southern border makes it harder to make the case that there should be expanded legal migration in this country? That because of the existence of the problem, we will actually not deliver part of the solution? You correctly note that many migrants come for economic opportunity, and that they ultimately will not qualify for asylum. Wouldn’t it be more orderly, and wouldn’t it be responsible governance to be able to deliver a lawful pathway to fill what we have, which is a labor need, and cut the exploitative smugglers out and give individuals a path to arrive lawfully, safely, in an orderly way, to perform labor that we need? They can send remittances home. They can return home when their work is done. Isn’t that an element of a workable immigration system?