Under Trump, Asylum Denials Rise
Political asylum saves the lives of people across the globe. In America, 2018 proved tough for asylum seekers. In many ways, the Trump administration opposes the very principle of asylum itself. This unfortunate fact has led to family separations as well as crises related to migrant relations and care at the southern border. In November 2018, the president even issued a proclamation attempting to prevent those who enter the country illegally from seeking asylum. While this act was blocked by the Supreme Court, it represents the mindset of current U.S. leadership, a troubling revelation.
At its core, asylum provides safe harbor and the opportunity for a life away from fear and violence. Yet, opponents of asylum (including the president and his officials) continually argue that frivolous or fraudulent asylum cases plague U.S. immigration courts. While there are certainly organizational and structural issues within the current U.S. system, they are not caused by an influx of fraudulent asylum cases. Instead, overburdened courts and departments have attempted to stay afloat and manage the natural ebb and flow of potential asylees.
Unfortunately, 2018 data show a rise in asylum case denials. This is likely due to a combination of factors, including new processing and policy guidelines. This article reviews 2018 asylum case data published by TRAC Immigration.
U.S. Asylum Case Backlogs
In 2018, the case backlogs faced by the U.S. asylum system were overwhelming. This critical issue has both delayed proceedings for applicants and caused significant stress as they must wait for decisions. In January 2018, more than 300,000 asylum applications awaited consideration and final rulings. And recently, a rise in asylum applications has only exacerbated the pre-existing case backlog. In fact, the application rate has “more than tripled” recently, all while old cases still piled up within the overtaxed system. And considering the urgent nature of most asylees’ claims, any delays in processing force people and families to leave their lives on hold as they wait for answers.
New USCIS Processing Policy
In response to the severe asylum case backlogs, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced processing adjustments in January 2018. The new processing policy, named “Last In, First Out,” changed the order in which asylum cases were reviewed and judged. The policy, previously used to process asylum cases from 1995-2014, attends to the newest cases first before addressing older cases. Unfortunately, for those with years-long asylum cases, this new policy meant an even longer wait. In its announcement, the USCIS stated that it hoped the reform would help officials “identify frivolous, fraudulent, or otherwise non-meritorious claims earlier.”
In 2018, Increases in Both Processing and Denials
It appears that the USCIS’s “Last In, First Out” policy did succeed in increasing case processing times in 2018. However, the increased processing times may have also contributed to a mirrored increase in asylum claim denials. Below, we explore TRAC Immigration’s 2018 data regarding both 2018 asylum case processing and denials.
In 2018, a staggering 65% of asylum claims ended in denial. This represents an increase from 2017, during which 60.2% of claims were denied. While this increase is disheartening, it represents a six-year increasing trend in asylum case results. The rise has been steady: in 2012 asylum denials were much lower, at 42%. These denials unfortunately are occurring despite a rise in attorney representation in 2018. Contrary to expectations, asylum seekers’ legal representation rates rose from 78.4% in 2017 to 84.4% in 2018.
40% Increase in Case Processing
According to TRAC, immigration judges adjudicated 42,224 asylum cases in 2018. While this number seems small compared to the large case backlog, it represents a 40% increase from 2017. Further, the 2018 processing rates were 89% higher than those in 2016! Considering this rise didn’t correlate with an influx of judges and staff, there is considerable concern that the quickened pace may be denying asylum seekers fair consideration and due process as courts race to keep up with demand.
Why are Denials Increasing?
When TRAC observed an increase in asylum case denials, its analysts then researched possible reasons for this occurrence. As discussed earlier, the increase is not due to a drop in legal representation, since legal counsel for asylum seekers increased in 2018. Additionally, one cannot blame the increase in denials on asylum seekers’ failure to appear in court. In fact, only 1.4% of 2018 denials were due to a defendant’s failure to appear.
Considering the above results, TRAC concludes that the increase in asylum denials is directly related to the actions and policies of the Trump administration. In June 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions drastically altered asylum case processing, announcing that asylum could not be offered to victims of domestic abuse or gang violence. Sessions’ announcement represents the standard “hard-line” approach to immigration set by Trump and his officials. It is no surprise that after Sessions’ announcement, asylum case denials jumped as immigration judges under his jurisdiction were forced to comply. TRAC noted that this new policy strongly affected Central American women and their children, who often seek asylum to escape both domestic and gang violence.
Considering the Future
While an increase in 2018 case processing may seem promising, the recent government partial shutdown harmed immigration courts immeasurably. The government furloughed most immigration judges and their staff during the partial shutdown, leading to cancelled court dates and heartbreak. Absent judges and shuttered courts have caused a record high in case backlogs. And without aid or additional support, U.S. immigration courts are likely to continue to struggle under crushing backlogs. In fact, The Associated Press reports that it could take years for courts to “deal with delays caused by the five-week impasse.” Further, high backlogs also force innocent people to place their lives on hold, waiting for their opportunity to see a judge and argue their case.
Seeking Asylum? Talk to an Expert Houston Immigration Lawyer
It takes courage to seek asylum. This is especially true in the United States, where some political leaders appear ready to cut asylees’ rights. If you or a loved one plan to seek asylum, or are currently seeking asylum, your greatest ally will be your immigration lawyer. An experienced and compassionate asylum attorney will defend your rights, ensure fair consideration, and provide support throughout this stressful experience.
The lawyers at Davis & Associates are committed to providing clients with top-tier legal counsel every day. We specialize in all areas of immigration law and are ready to help you with your case. Contact our office today to schedule a free initial consultation. You’ll have an opportunity to talk with one of our attorneys, who will assess your situation and provide options.
About TRAC Immigration
The data discussed within this article, unless otherwise noted, are sourced from the TRAC Immigration Project’s 2018 asylum report. The TRAC Immigration Project stems from Syracuse University and provides up-to-date and non-partisan data regarding U.S. federal immigration enforcement. You can visit their website here.