Asylum applications are initially submitted to one of the USCIS Service Centers. After an initial review, the Service Center forwards the application to the appropriate Asylum Office for an interview. Unfortunately, the Service Centers reject a fair number of applications and mail them back to the applicants (or their lawyers). Based on my own experience, it seems that many of these rejections are frivolous or at least unwarranted, and this raises concerns about access to justice for asylum seekers.
Where I live (in the civilized part of the country), we submit our asylum applications to the Texas Service Center. Maybe I’ve just been on a losing streak, but in recent months, I have had three applications rejected and returned to me by the TSC. Each one was rejected for an illegitimate reason (at least as far as I am concerned). The first application was rejected because we failed to list the applicant’s siblings on the form. But the applicant has no siblings, so there was nothing for us to list. After this rejection, I have taken to writing “n/a” in any space on the form that would otherwise be left blank. The second rejection occurred because USCIS wanted additional information that the Alien number we listed belonged to the applicant. However, the applicant’s Alien number had been assigned to him by USCIS. Why they simply couldn’t look up the number that they previously assigned to the applicant is beyond me. The most recent rejection was because the applicant purportedly failed to include an additional copy of the I-589 for her dependent child, whose application was attached to her’s. Also, supposedly, we did not include evidence (like a birth certificate) establishing the relationship between the parent and the child. The only problem here is that we did include an extra copy of the I-589 form and a copy of a document showing that the applicant was the parent (there are no birth certificates in the applicant’s country). I even clearly listed these documents on the cover page. For this one, I have no idea why the application was rejected. Before mailing it back, I highlighted some documents in bright pink and attached some sticky notes. I’ll hope for the best.
I imagine that if the Service Centers regularly reject applications prepared by someone familiar with the process, they must reject a good portion of the applications they receive. For pro se asylum seekers, this creates a barrier that might prevent them from presenting their cases. So what’s to be done?
The basic problem, I think, is that the criteria for rejecting asylum applications is too stringent. Forget to check the box indicating whether you received a list of attorneys who can represent you at low or no cost? Rejected. Fail to indicate whether you are fluent in English? Rejected. Forget an extra copy of the I-589 for the dependent? Rejected.
I recognize that the Service Centers are bureaucracies with limited resources. However, in some cases, it would seem easier to either contact the applicant and ask for an explanation of the problem or let the Asylum Officer deal with the problem at the interview. In cases of minor errors, these solutions would be easier and less expensive than reviewing the application, deciding to reject it, addressing the return envelope, paying for the return envelope, and repeating the process once the application is re-submitted. It would also be less frustrating for attorneys (i.e., me) and it would better ensure access to justice for pro se applicants.
On September 13, 2012, two Service Centers will hold their Fall Asylum and Refugee Conference to discuss issues related to asylum:
The TSC is partnering with the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) to provide an opportunity to meet staff and share information on asylum- and refugee-related topics through presentation and open dialogue. The conference will include a panel discussion with representatives from the Refugee, Asylum and International Operations (RAIO) and Service Center Operations (SCOPS) directorates, the director of the National Visa Center (tentative), as well as TSC and NSC employees. Immigration Services Officers will also be available in the afternoon to answer your case-specific questions.
I certainly hope that one topic of conversation will be how to reduce the rejection rate for asylum applications.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.