U.S. officials decided to allow entry to thousands of undocumented immigrants through the southwest border last summer, part of a record-setting surge in unauthorized crossings over the past year. Immigration officials were so overwhelmed that they admitted tens of thousands of migrants while issuing them a new document that did not include the typical hearing dates or identification numbers used in the immigration court system. The change sped up the process of releasing them, but also made it much harder for the new arrivals to start applying for asylum and for the government to track them, reports the New York Times. The government has not been able to complete the processing started at the border, showing how ill prepared the system was for the surge and creating a quagmire for the Biden administration.
President Biden pledged as a candidate to fix the broken immigration system, a campaign mantra that resonated with many voters after the harsh policies of President Trump. Over Biden’s first year in office, his administration’s response to the surge in migration has consisted largely of crisis-driven reactions — including the faster entry process. Migrants were caught crossing the southwest border illegally more than two million times between December 2020 and December 2021, the largest number since at least 1960. They came from around the world, many fleeing persecution and economic hardship with the expectation that Biden would be more welcoming than Trump. Although migrants were expelled in a little more than half the cases, more than 400,000 of them were released into the U.S. during Biden’s first year in office. Of those, more than 94,000 were released through the sped-up process — a streamlined version of a longtime practice that critics call “catch and release."