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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. Attorney General Seeks to Limit Asylum... Or Something

    The Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, has been busy "certifying" cases to himself in order to (apparently) reduce protections for certain asylum seekers. I want to talk about two cases in particular, but first, let's talk about the process that Mr. Sessions is following.

    "Oh Magoo, you've done it again!"

    The decisions in question involve cases that were before the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA" or "Board"), the administrative appellate body that interprets the nation's immigration laws. The BIA has been called (sometimes derisively) the "Supreme Court of immigration law." The BIA is not actually a court in the normal sense of the word (and, by the way, neither are the Immigration Courts). Instead, it is an office within the U.S. Department of Justice. The leader of the Department of Justice is the Attorney General ("AG"). So in essence, the BIA derives its power from the AG, who is the ultimate "decider" when it comes to BIA cases.

    What has been happening recently is that Mr. Sessions has been "certifying" cases from the BIA to himself. Basically, this means that he is taking the cases from the BIA and changing the Board's decisions. In a sense, this is nothing new--previous AGs have done the same thing on occasion. But the concern here is two-fold: Substantively, the AG seems to be moving towards limiting the scope of asylum protections in some types of cases, and procedurally, the AG's actions do not comport with due process of law, at least as that concept is understood in non-totalitarian countries.

    The first case I want to discuss is Matter of E-F-H-L-, 27 I&N Dec. 226 (AG 2018). In that case, the AG vacated a 2014 BIA decision (also called Matter of E-F-H-L-) and returned the matter to the Immigration Judge (the letters in the case name refer to the alien's initials). The 2014 case stands for the proposition that an asylum applicant is entitled to a hearing on the merits of her application, including an opportunity to provide oral testimony and other evidence, "without first having to establish prima facie eligibility for the requested relief." In other words, the case is widely viewed as re-affirming the right to a hearing, even if the asylum claim, as articulated by the applicant, is legally insufficient.

    In civil litigation, there is something called "failure to state a claim." Judges routinely dismiss lawsuits if they determine that a litigant's claim--even if taken as true--does not entitled the litigant to relief. In our adversarial system, this makes sense. Why waste a court's time (or the jury's time) adjudicating the facts of a case if those facts do not entitle the claimant to any relief? And why not do the same thing for asylum applicants?

    The main objection is that many asylum applicants are unrepresented, and do not know how to articulate their claims effectively. Only in the course of testimony might an applicant's claim become apparent (and that is especially true in a case like E-F-H-L-, where there is a complicated "particular social group" analysis). Most Immigration Court hearings are fairly truncated affairs to begin with, and so further curtailing an applicant's ability to present his case makes it even more likely that overworked judges will take the easy route and dismiss an asylum claim before the applicant is able to fully develop his case. The result, of course, will be that legitimate asylum seekers are denied protection.

    So it is concerning that Mr. Sessions has vacated E-F-H-L-. But what comes next is not yet clear. The case has been returned to the Immigration Court for further decision-making, and as I read the case, it seems unlikely that the Judge or the BIA would need to rule on E-F-H-L-'s right to a full hearing. According to the AG's decision, E-F-H-L- married a U.S. citizen and withdrew his asylum claim. If that is true, there is little reason to think we will hear anything more about this particular case.

    The problem, though, is that the AG presumably vacated E-F-H-L- for a reason. I expect the reason is that he wants to create a new standard (in a different alien's case) for adjudicating asylum claims. What this standard will be, we do not yet know, but given Mr. Sessions's jaundiced view of asylum seekers, I'm not feeling optimistic. Whatever he does, Mr. Sessions is limited by the statute and by the courts, and so hopefully, it will not be as bad as we fear.

    The second case I want to discuss is Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 227 (BIA 2018). Mr. Sessions has certified that BIA case to himself and requested new briefs (legal arguments) from the parties and from amici (interested organizations). The question Mr. Sessions wants briefed is this:

    Whether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable “particular social group” for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.

    We don't know, but presumably the goal here is to block asylum seekers who fear harm from "private criminal activity." This might, for example, block people fleeing harm from gangs in Central America, or victims of domestic violence. It potentially affects other types of asylum claims as well.

    The main problem is that Mr. Sessions has asked for briefing on a question that is vague. He has not given us the facts of the case, thus making it difficult to write an effective brief, since cases are fact specific. He even tried to hide the name of the attorney representing A-B-; perhaps in an effort to block advocates from learning more about the case.

    This is not how due process works, and I imagine that whatever decision the AG issues in A-B- will be vulnerable to review by the federal appellate courts, which tend to look askance at such blatant (and amateurish) violations of due process.

    That the Attorney General of the United States would engage in such obvious procedural misfeasance is very concerning. Since we don't know what the AG is really asking for, his request for amici briefs is completely disingenuous. Indeed, even if you favor limiting the scope of asylum, you should be concerned when our country's top law enforcement officer demonstrates such contempt for the rule of law.

    Where the AG is heading with all this, we shall see. The widespread belief among advocates is that in anticipation of DACA and TPS ending, Mr. Sessions is planning to roll back protections for certain asylum seekers, specifically people facing harm from gangs and also victims of domestic violence. But he could also be targeting LGBT asylum seekers who fear community (as opposed to government) persecution, victims of female genital mutilation, and victims of terrorist groups, among others.

    Finally, it’s difficult not to see the irony here. For years, advocates for asylum seekers have been litigating to expand protections for a wider range of persecuted individuals, particular women, who often face harm not contemplated by the people (mostly white men) who came up with the definition of “refugee” after World War II. However, by pursuing litigation—rather than legislation—we have left ourselves vulnerable to a restrictionist Administration that now seeks to contract that definition.

    Don’t get me wrong—I certainly don’t blame advocates for our current woes; we tried and failed legislatively at least once. But I do hope that if the pendulum swings back, and the public mood becomes more favorable, we will try again to create a refugee law that is more in-tune with the types of harm individuals face today. Until then, we are stuck litigating our clients’ cases in an uncertain environment, against an Attorney General who has little interest in playing by the rules.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
    Tags: asylum, sessions Add / Edit Tags
  2. The Last-In, First-Out Policy Ain't Exactly Last-In, First-Out

    It's been a month since the Asylum Division surprised us by changing from a first-in, first-out (FI-FO) system to a last-in, first-out (LI-FO) system. Under the new system, cases were supposed to be interviewed in the following order of priority: (1) Applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the interview had to be rescheduled at the applicant’s request or the needs of USCIS; (2) Applications that have been pending 21 days or less; and (3) All other pending affirmative asylum applications will be scheduled for interviews starting with newer filings and working back towards older filings. So in other words, the Asylum Offices would interview newly filed cases first; then, if they had extra time, they would interview recently filed cases, working their way backwards through the backlog.

    How's the new LI-FO system working out for you?

    We're now a month in, and the new system is not working exactly as advertised. In our office, for example, we had one client whose case was filed in mid-January 2018. The case was scheduled for an interview earlier this week (we postponed it, as we needed more time to gather evidence). This is about what we expected under the LI-FO system. Another client, whose case was filed in August 2014 was scheduled for an interview in mid-March. The Asylum Office mailed out the interview notice in mid-February, at a time when LI-FO should have been in place. This is not what we were expecting. So what the heck is happening?

    It turns out that different Asylum Offices are implementing the LI-FO system in different ways. In a conference call with AILA (the American Immigration Lawyers Association), the Asylum Division informed us that if they do not have enough new cases to fill their schedule, Asylum Offices will interview cases from the backlog. The different offices apparently have the authority to decide which backlogged cases they will choose to interview--old cases, new cases or (I guess) whatever cases they feel like interviewing.

    In my local office--Arlington, Virginia--it seems they are interviewing old backlog cases--from 2014. This is contrary to the interview priorities published on January 31, 2018, where the Asylum Division indicated they would work their way backwards through the backlog. It sounds like other Asylum Offices will interview newer backlogged cases--from January 2018 or December 2017, in conformity with the published priorities.

    On one level, my preference is that the Asylum Offices interview older cases first, as that seems more fair. But frankly, at this point, my main concern is that they just make a decision and stick with it. It's bad enough that the Asylum Division announced a surprise change and basically upended the expectations of asylum seekers (and their lawyers). But now, it seems they can't even follow their own policy.

    For advocates, including yours truly, this makes it very difficult to know how to prioritize cases and advise clients. Worse, so much uncertainty makes it even more difficult for asylum seekers to endure the long waits.

    Of course, all things pass, and my guess is that we are currently in a period of transition. After the recent change to LI-FO, many attorneys and applicants stopped filing cases. Prior to the change, we were filing bare-bones asylum applications with the intention of finishing the cases later, as the interview date approached. But now, given the (supposed) short time between filing the case and receiving the interview, we have to file completed cases. It takes more time to prepare complete cases, and so we are adjusting how we do things. As a result, fewer cases are being filed and the Asylum Offices have a brief pause to work on backlogged cases.

    However, once everyone re-calibrates, I expect the volume of new asylum applications will return to normal, and the Asylum Offices will probably be interviewing new cases, and maybe--if we're lucky--some cases from the backlog.

    Once things settle down, it would be nice to know how the different Asylum Offices plan to interview backlog cases going forward. That way, asylum seekers will have some idea what to expect, and attorneys can advise their clients and manage their caseload. In this sense, the now-defunct Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin was quite helpful. At least we had some idea about what was going on.

    My hope is that the Asylum Offices will choose to provide us with some information about how they are operating. This shouldn't be all that difficult since each office has its own website. Indeed, whether they are moving through their backlog from oldest to newest or from newest to oldest, I don't see why they can't simply tell us where they are.

    And while I'm wishing, maybe they can also give other useful information on their website, like the deadlines for filing evidence and the procedures for rescheduling, expediting, and short-listing. Repeat customers like me already know the rules, but pro se applicants don't, and there is currently no easy way for them to find out. Why not simply post this information on the Asylum Office website for everyone to see?

    I know that all this is probably asking for too much. I also know that the Asylum Offices are in a tough spot these days. The Trump Administration is clearly hostile to their mission of protecting bona fide refugees, and anything they do to make the process more user-friendly might come back to bite them. Also, they are potentially on the cusp of a massive surge in new cases, if nothing is done for DACA or TPS recipients. Nevertheless, it would be nice if they could follow the policy that they announced less than a month ago. Or, if they don't plan to follow the policy, at least keep everyone informed about what they are doing.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
    Tags: asylum, backlog Add / Edit Tags
  3. Your Affirmative Asylum Case Was Denied. Now What? (Part 1)

    It’s getting more and more difficult to win an asylum case at the Asylum Office. So if your case is not approved, what happens?

    For asylum seekers and pizza lovers, this guy is bad news.

    For affirmative asylum cases, there are two possible negative outcomes at the Asylum Office level: Denial and Referral.

    Denials occur only if you are “in status,” meaning you have some other type of non-immigrant status aside from the pending asylum case. Under the old system (that existed from December 2014 to January 2018), where cases were interviewed in the order received, very few applicants were “in status” by the time of their asylum decision. This is because the cases took years, and very few non-immigrant visas allow an alien to remain lawfully in the U.S. for that long (some exceptions might be the F, J, and H1b visas).

    Now, under the new system of last-in, first-out (which is pretty much the same as the pre-December 2014 system), we can expect many newly-filed cases to receive decisions much more quickly, so more applicants will be “in status” when they receive a decision.

    If the decision is "yes," then you receive asylum with all the accompanying benefits. But if the decision is "no" and you are still “in status,” the Asylum Office will give you a letter, called a Notice of Intent to Deny or NOID. The NOID provides a fairly detailed explanation of why your case is being denied, and it gives you 16 days to file a response. In the response, you can include new evidence and explain why the Asylum Office should grant your case.

    In the last few years, we have rarely seen NOIDs. However, before December 2014, we would see them now and again. Most often, we saw them when a new client came into the office seeking help with a response. The problem for a busy attorney is that the NOIDs give so little time to respond (16 days) and usually a few days had already passed before the person came for help.

    My experience with NOIDs is that the Asylum Office pays attention to the responses. I'd guess that we were successful in getting asylum for about 50% of the people who came to us with such letters. The lesson here is that if you get a NOID, you should do your best to respond. In some cases, it may be impossible to get the Asylum Office to reverse its decision. But as they say, you've got to play to win, so if you get a NOID, make sure to respond--you may turn an "intent to deny" into a grant.

    If you respond to the NOID and the Asylum Office still decides to deny your application (and assuming your status did not expire in the interim), you will receive a final denial. This means that your case is now over, and you can remain in the United States until your period of lawful stay ends. At that point, you are supposed to leave or seek some other status.

    The problem for many asylum seekers, however, is that they do not want to return home (they are asylum seekers, after all). Even though the Asylum Office has denied their case, they want an opportunity to present the case to an Immigration Judge. This makes sense, as many cases denied at the Asylum Office are granted in court. As I'll discuss in Part 2 (spoiler alert!), asylum cases denied by the Asylum Office are referred to Immigration Court if the applicant is out of status. But if you are denied and you are "in status," what can you do?

    If you received a final denial in your asylum case and you want to go to court, you have to re-apply for asylum at the Asylum Office. The procedure for a second application is different than for a first (check the I-589 instructions). Essentially, you submit a new application directly to the local asylum office, rather than file with a USCIS Service Center (initial asylum applications are sent to the Service Centers).

    In theory, for a second application, the Asylum Office will only consider events that occurred after the first application. In other words, they typically will not revisit the first asylum application. Instead, you need to present something new if you want them to grant your case. It's pretty rare that some new evidence arises between a first and second asylum application, and so the second application is likely to be denied. If the second application is denied, and you are now out of status, your case will be referred to an Immigration Judge, who will look at both your asylum cases.

    Given this cumbersome system of having to file a second case, some applicants prefer to file for asylum when their status is expired or close to expiring (but keep in mind the one-year filing deadline). These applicants do not want to leave the U.S., and they prefer to go directly to court if their case is denied. This is certainly a reasonable plan. However, I do think it is important to consider the pros and cons of this approach.

    On the plus side, if your denial arrives after your status has expired, you will go from the Asylum Office directly to court, so your case may move a bit faster. Also, of course, you get the chance to present your claim to an Immigration Judge. On the negative side, in order to make this happen, you have to wait until your status has expired (or is close to expiring) before you file your case. Some people may not like this delay. Also, you will not receive a NOID, and so you will only have a vague idea about the reason for the denial (when a case is referred to court, the Asylum Office does not give a detailed explanation of the reasons). Finally, you will not have an opportunity to rebut the Asylum Office's reasons for denying your case, which means you lose an opportunity to win the case after the NOID is issued. For me, there is no correct answer here. The time frame of when you choose to apply depends on which path you prefer.

    Of course, if you are out of status and receive a denial from the Asylum Office, your case will go to an Immigration Judge. But that is a topic for another day. Stay tuned....

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  4. The One Year Bar and LGBT Asylum Claims

    Richard Kelley is the Legal Program Coordinator for DC Center Global, an organization focused on supporting LGBTQI asylum seekers in Washington, DC. Most recently, Richard was a Senior Associate at the DC Affordable Law Firm, practicing immigration and family law. He is currently an associate at DLA Piper (USA). His full biography can be found here.

    Contact Richard Kelley at

    Richard Kelley

    In 1996, the United States Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which fundamentally changed the landscape of asylum law. Most notably, IIRIRA created a new requirement that those entering the country had to apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States. This one-year bar has created exceptional challenges for individuals seeking asylum and has had a notable impact on LGBTQI asylum seekers in particular.

    LGBTQI asylum seekers may miss this rigid one year deadline for several reasons: Insecurity about, discomfort with, or lack of openness about their identity; fear of being identified as LGBTQI or being “outed” as LGBTQI in their home country or in the immigrant diaspora within the United States; immense emotional and psychological trauma caused by experiences related to their LGBTQI status; or even lack of awareness that they can pursue asylum based on LGBTQI status. Individuals can often find themselves still exploring whether to apply for asylum based on sexual orientation even after one year has passed.

    Those asylum seekers who are aware of the one-year bar may not know that it is not absolute. There are two ways that an asylum seeker can overcome the one year bar to asylum: (1) the existence of a changed circumstance which materially affects the applicant’s eligibility for asylum, or (2) an extraordinary circumstance related to the delay in filing the application within the first year of entry. If an asylum seeker is able to demonstrate that he or she falls into one of these two exceptions “to the satisfaction of the asylum officer,” the applicant must then show that the application was filed within a “reasonable period of time” after the changed or extraordinary circumstance. See INA § 208(a)(2)(D); 8 C.F.R. § 208.4(a).

    What can be a change in circumstance?

    If asylum seekers can show “the existence of changed circumstances which materially affect the applicant’s eligibility for asylum,” then they will only have to show that they applied within a reasonable period of time after the change in circumstance. The regulations indicate that a change in circumstance may include changes in conditions of the home country; changes in the applicant’s circumstances (including changes in applicable U.S. law and activities the applicant becomes involved in outside the country of feared persecution); or, if the applicant is a dependent in another person’s pending asylum application, the loss of the spousal or parent-child relationship. See 8 C.F.R. § 208.4(a)(4).

    For LGBTQI asylum seekers, this can take many forms. For example, if an asylum seeker’s home country recently passed legislation that criminalized same-sex relationships or same-sex advocacy, or otherwise targets LGBTQI individuals, this could qualify as a change in circumstance. Additionally, a major change in how the country, including its police force, treats LGBTQI individuals could be a change in conditions at home. Unfortunately, many countries have had discriminatory laws on the books for years, even decades. Some laws banning same-sex relationships are holdovers from colonial rule. Much more likely for asylum seekers is a change in personal circumstances. Potential changes in circumstance could include being “outed” as LGBTQI at home, getting actively involved in LGBTQI advocacy groups, marrying a same-sex partner, or for transgender individuals, going through transition efforts, particularly gender-affirming surgery. The important thing for asylum seekers to understand is that it is critical to explain how this change in circumstance materially affects one’s eligibility for asylum. Or stated differently, why does this new event create a reasonable fear of persecution that did not exist prior to the event occurring?

    What might be an extraordinary circumstance?

    A second option for asylum seekers who are not applying within one year of their entry into the United States is to demonstrate that there is an extraordinary circumstance related to the delay in filing the application. The regulations suggest several potential extraordinary circumstances that could justify a delay in filing, including serious illness or mental or physical disability, legal disability, ineffective assistance of counsel, maintenance of Temporary Protected Status or another lawful status, or a technical error. This list provided in the regulations, like the list of changes in circumstance, is not exhaustive. See 8 CFR §208.4(a)(5).

    LGBTQI asylum seekers can find themselves in situations where they may be able to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances related to their delay in filing. Perhaps the biggest group of asylum seekers who miss the one-year deadline are individuals who come to the United States on student visas or other temporary visas, and during their time in the U.S. either come out publicly or engage in advocacy around LGBTQI issues that subsequently creates a reasonable fear of returning home. In addition, an individual who enters the country as a minor (under the age of 18) may be able to apply because of legal disability.

    Many LGBTQI asylum seekers may also have experienced trauma in their home country due to their identity. Some advocates have argued successfully that this is an extraordinary circumstance that justifies an application outside of the first year. Matter of J-A-, A XXX-XXX-234 (Arlington Immigration Court, April 27, 2012), was an important step forward in this area. The advocates in Matter of J-A- successfully argued that extreme sexual and physical violence against J-A- because of his sexual orientation caused extreme and chronic PTSD, which justified his late application (nearly 10 years after his entry into the United States). This, combined with the fact that he entered the U.S. as a legal minor, led Judge Bryant of the Arlington Immigration Court to conclude that there was an extraordinary circumstance justifying the late filing. But it is important to note that arguments relying on PTSD or other mental health conditions are not always successful. However, rulings like the one in Matter of J-A- give hope that the law might actually catch up with the reality of the psychological impact caused by severe persecution based on LGBTQI identity. Again, the important thing for asylum seekers to focus on here is how the extraordinary circumstance directly caused the delay in filing.

    What is a reasonable period of time?

    If asylum seekers are able to show that there has been a change in circumstance or an extraordinary circumstance, they are permitted to file the asylum application within a reasonable period of time. There is no specified reasonable time in IIRIRA, but the simple answer is that one should file as soon as possible.

    So, while the one year bar can be concerning to asylum seekers and has been particularly harmful to LGBTQI asylum seekers, there is hope. While other options, like Withholding of Removal, may be available to individuals outside the one year bar, it is incumbent upon asylum seekers and advocates to make every effort to help the adjudicator understand the complexities faced by the LGBTQI community and to build effective justifications for filing for asylum outside the one-year period. The exceptions provide some hope to an otherwise devastating change in the immigration law.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
    Tags: asylum, lgbt Add / Edit Tags
  5. The Asylum Office Is Getting Tougher (Probably)

    Last week, the Asylum Division changed the way it processes cases. Instead of interviewing asylum cases in the order they were filed (first-in, first-out), cases will now be interviewed on a last-in, first-out or LI-FO basis. We've been learning more about the reasons for this change, and I want to share what I've heard here. But before I get to that, I want to discuss another important change that has recently become apparent: The dramatic drop in grant rates for cases at most asylum offices.

    The new Asylum Officer training regimen.

    The below chart compares asylum approval rates at the various asylum offices for the months of December 2016 and December 2017 (the most recent month when data is available). Admittedly, this is a snapshot of events, and an imperfect snapshot at that. Nevertheless, I think it illustrates a larger trend.

    The left number in each column represents the number of cases approved during the month. The number on the right is the number of cases completed. The percentage shows the percentage of cases approved in that office. So in December 2016, Arlington approved 89 cases out of 317 completed, meaning that 28% of completed cases were approved. Conversely, 72% of applicants were denied asylum or referred to court, but that includes people who failed to show up for their interview, so the denial rate for people who actually appear is not as bad as it seems from the chart (as they say, in life, eighty percent of success is showing up). With that out of the way, here are the stats:

    Asylum Office December 2016 December 2017
    Arlington 89/317 (28%) 80/276 (29%)
    Boston 45/108 (42%) 27/168 (16%)
    Chicago 75/186 (40%) 80/362 (22%)
    Houston 28/119 (24%) 58/437 (13%)
    Los Angeles 258/528 (49%) 389/1195 (33%)
    Miami 73/243 (30%) 76/650 (12%)
    Newark 118/358 (33%) 155/866 (18%)
    New York 103/496 (21%) 87/858 (10%)
    New Orleans 41/83 (49%) 83/188 (44%)
    San Francisco 219/303 (72%) 196/429 (46%)
    United States 1049/2741 (38.3%) 1231/5429 (22.7%)

    So you can see that asylum grant rates are pretty dramatically down at most offices, and that for the entire country, they are down about 40% (from 38.3% to 22.7%) (you can see the source for these statistics here for 2016 and here for 2017). While the various grant rates could represent anomalies, they comport with larger trends, as shown in the next chart, which lists grant rates for the U.S. as a whole over the last few years:

    Fiscal Year Asylum Grant Rate
    FY 2015 45%
    FY 2016 41%
    FY 2017 34%
    FY 2018 26%

    You can see from this chart that asylum grant rates have been dropping since FY 2015 (which began on October 1, 2014), but the decrease is more pronounced in the two most recent fiscal years (and of course, we are only a few months into FY 2018). Further, if the December 2017 data is any indicator, the grant rate is continuing to drop.

    My first question--and be forewarned, I don't really intend to answer these questions--is, Why is this happening? The temptation is to attribute the drop to President Trump's anti-immigrant agenda, but I don't find that explanation very convincing. First, grant rates began to fall long before Mr. Trump took office. Second, even after he was sworn in--in the second quarter of FY 2017--it takes months to implement new policies. Most asylum officers were hired pre-Trump, and that was especially true in FY 2017, since it takes time to hire and train new people. In addition, I have not observed any real changes in the pool of asylum officers that I meet (then again, the grant rate at my local office--Arlington--seems to have held steady, at least as illustrated in the first chart).

    So if it's not President Trump, what's going on? One possibility--and I suspect this is the explanation that the Asylum Division favors--is that a higher portion of cases interviewed in recent years are meritless. In other words, as the backlog grew and delays became longer, people with weak cases were incentivized to file for asylum in order to get their employment authorization document ("EAD"). These people knew that their cases would take years, and so they filed mostly to obtain some status here and work legally. But now, as more and more of these people are reaching the interview stage, their cases are being denied. There is some evidence for this theory--according to the Asylum Division, of the 314,000 backlogged asylum cases, 50,000+ applications were filed more than 10 years after the applicant entered the United States. For various reasons, such cases are more likely to be meritless, and--even if they are legitimate--they are more likely to be denied due to the one year asylum filing deadline.

    If this second explanation is correct, then perhaps there will be a silver lining to the recent change in how asylum cases are interviewed. If people get faster interviews, maybe fewer meritless applicants will seek asylum.

    Whether or not this will work, we shall see. But a test is soon coming (probably). The Trump Administration has ended TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for El Salvador and other countries. It has also terminated the DACA program. This means that in the absence of a legislative fix, hundreds of thousands of people will have no way to avoid deportation other than to go into hiding or to seek asylum. You can bet that many of them will seek asylum (and indeed, given the violent countries from whence they came, many have legitimate reasons to fear return).

    We know from a recent meeting at the Arlington Asylum Office that the end of TPS and DACA were two reasons for changing to the FI-LO process. But whether this new procedure will stem the potential tidal wave of applications, I have my doubts.

    All this brings us to the final question (for today)--What does this mean for asylum seekers? As usual, I don't have a good answer. People filing now can probably expect an interview soon and should submit all evidence so they are ready for the interview. However, if volume is too high, not everyone will get an interview. My impression is that if the interview is not scheduled within 21 days of receiving the receipt, then the case will "disappear" and will only be interviewed once the Asylum Office starts working on backlogged cases. It's likely that some cases will disappear, since the number of people seeking asylum is still out-pacing the government's ability to interview applicants. Also, there are (once again) increasing numbers of asylum seekers arriving at the U.S./Mexico border, and the Asylum Offices must devote resources to those cases as well.

    Local offices control the expedite process and the short list, and it seems that most offices will continue to offer those options. However, the Asylum Division is expecting fewer "no shows" with the new system, and so there may be less slots available for expedited or short-listed cases.

    Finally, under the pre-December 2014 system, when an asylum case was sent to Immigration Court, the judge would schedule a quick hearing date for any applicant who had not yet received his EAD (in an effort to dissuade meritless applicants from seeking asylum merely to get an EAD). It looks like the Immigration Courts will again be doing this same thing, and so if you have a fast asylum interview and you are referred to court, you should be prepared for a fast hearing date in court.

    For what it's worth, my impression is that the Asylum Division is well aware of the pain it will inflict by re-ordering how asylum cases are interviewed. But they are looking at the "big picture" and they hope that changing to a FI-LO system will reduce meritless applications and ultimately benefit legitimate asylum seekers. I hope they are correct, but until then, I fear things will be worse before they get better.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
    Tags: asylum, backlog Add / Edit Tags
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