Beginning last year, immigration officials were so overwhelmed that they admitted tens of thousands of migrants with documents that did not include the typical hearing dates. The change accelerated the process of releasing them into the country, but also made it much harder for the new arrivals to start applying for asylum — and for the government to track them.

Months later, the government has not been able to complete the processing began at the border, showing how ill-prepared the system was for the surge and creating a practical and political quagmire for the Biden administration.

Migrants were arrested crossing the southwest border illegally more than two million times between December 2020 and December 2021 – the largest number since at least 1960 – more than 400,000 of them were released into the country for a variety of reasons during Mr. Biden’s first year in office.

These migrants were instructed to register with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement within 60 days to complete the process the border officials started. But in some parts of the country, local ICE offices were overwhelmed and unable to give them appointments.

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