Asylum: Some Progress, But Much More Needs to be Done

AsylumBack in 1986, Immigration Judges denied almost 90% of all asylum requests. Now, during the past 9 months, the Judges granted 50% of asylum requests. What’s more, the disparities among various Immigration Judges have narrowed somewhat.

This information is contained in a new report issued by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of the University of Syracuse.

This increase in approvals tracks with another important consideration: In 1986, only a little more than half of all asylum applicants were represented by an attorney. Today, over 90% of asylum applicants have attorneys. Attorney-represented asylum seekers have their cases granted 54% of the time, while those who are unrepresented have only an 11% success rate.

Although disparities between Immigration Judges have narrowed somewhat, they are still wide enough to be cause for concern. In San Francisco, one Judge granted 68% of asylum requests, while another Judge granted only 8%. Similarly, in New York, one Judge granted a stunning 94% of asylum requests, while another Judge granted 30%.

In 2006, after TRAC published its first report documenting wide disparities between Immigration Judges in their rates of approval of asylum applications, then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales directed the Executive Office for Immigration Review to study the TRAC report, and if its findings proved valid, to recommend reforms to reduce these wide disparities.

EOIR confirmed that there were huge disparities among the Judges, and called for more training and monitoring, particularly for Judges with unusually high or low rates of asylum approvals.

TRAC, in 2006, also developed an online system which enables both Immigration Judges and the public to compare the asylum approval and denial rates among Judges. This system is helpful and allows the public to see factors that may account for some of the variations in asylum grant rates between Judges. For example, one Judge may see a disproportionate amount of asylum seekers from a country where political conditions have either improved or deteriorated recently.

In 2008, the government’s General Accountability Office (GAO) conducted its own study, which confirmed the existence of widespread disparities among the Judge’s holdings in asylum cases.

Has the increased attention to this problem had any effect?

Although the most recent TRAC report answers this question in the affirmative, it concludes that:

“Thus, although disparities have been reduced, the unfortunate bottom line remains. A very important element in deciding whether an asylum seeker is granted or denied asylum has little to do with the legitimacy of his or her claims, but a great deal to do with the particular judge to whom the asylum seeker was assigned.”

Inasmuch as an erroneous asylum decision may result in the imprisonment, or even the death, of the asylum seeker, we urge the Obama Administration to take a hard look at this continuing problem, and to take actions which will insure that asylum seekers, as well as all other individuals who apply for relief from removal, will be able to obtain equal justice under the law. 




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