DePaul University Professor Debunks Migrant Myths, Urges Federal Action to Streamline Legal Process – NBC Chicago

As concerns persist about how to adequately care for the thousands of migrants recently sent to Chicago, a DePaul University professor is clarifying the process ahead for them and dispelling myths surrounding their legal status in the United States.

“We have a very complicated system,” said Dr. Shailja Sharma, who is chair of International Studies and professor of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at DePaul University.

According to the city of Chicago, 10,019 migrants have arrived since August 2022. Sharma said many of them are seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Usually at the border, they will need an asylum officer who will see if they have…a surface level…enough reason to fear for their lives,” the professor said. “It’s called a credible fear interview.”

Some migrants may be able to apply for asylum in their home countries, but many begin the process at the border, Sharma said. She said the process is then in the hands of the immigration court system.

“That depends on the availability of appointments and the availability of judges,” said Sharma. “Until they actually have the interview with the judge, [the migrants] are legally allowed to stay in the United States.”

Sharma called the standard for asylum approval “quite high.”

“You have to prove that you’re being persecuted because of five reasons, including religion, race, political belief, etc., nationality and so on,” she stated.

There are currently far more cases than the immigration system can handle. January data from Syracuse University’s Immigration Court Backlog Tool shows it takes an average of 801 days for a migrant to have a court hearing in Chicago.

The U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review would not confirm Syracuse’s number.

“When an immigration court receives a charging document – called a Notice to Appear (NTA) – from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the court schedules an initial hearing before an immigration judge on the first available date on the calendar,” a spokesperson for the department said.

Sharma also cautioned against the rhetoric surrounding the migrants. She said the federal government, through FEMA, is more prepared than state and local government to handle migrant needs once they arrive in the United States.

“Let’s not see [migrants] as a just a drain on an economy,” Sharma said. “Yes, they need resources, but you know, the city has to gear up and ask for those resources from the federal government and also find like a more streamlined way to provide those services.”

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