Flawed U.S. Filing Deadline Provision Denies, Delays Protection for Legitimate Refugees

Washington, DC – Human Rights First today issued a new report calling on Congress to eliminate a technical asylum filing deadline in U.S. law that has barred thousands of legitimate refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from receiving asylum in the United States. According to the report, in the 12 years since the provision took effect, more than 53,400 asylum applications have been rejected, denied or delayed based on the deadline and many of these cases have been pushed unnecessarily into the already overstretched immigration court system. In The Asylum Filing Deadline: Denying Protection to the Persecuted and Undermining Governmental Efficiency, Human Rights First uses real case examples and its own refugee representation experience to demonstrate the harmful effects of a provision barring an individual from asylum if he or she did not apply for protection within a year of arriving in the United States. That provision, contained within the Illegal Immigrations Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act that became law in 1996, has consistently denied asylum to persecuted individuals in ways that are inconsistent with the nation’s leadership in protecting victims of political, religious and other forms of persecution. The report also finds that the filing deadline law has caused inefficiencies and delays in the asylum system and diverted significant governmental resources. “The one year asylum filing deadline has led the U.S. to reject or deny the asylum requests of genuine refugees, even those who have proven that they have well founded fears of political, religious or other persecution,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Many refugees who seek this country’s protection miss this filing deadline. They may not speak English, are not familiar with our legal system, do not have the resources to pay for a lawyer and arrive in this country still traumatized from their persecution. We have monitored the filing deadline’s impact on refugees for many years now, and it is clear that despite the existence of exceptions to the filing deadline, many deserving refugees have been barred from asylum in the United States.” Among the report’s chief criticisms of the asylum filing deadline are that it:

  • Returns some refugees to persecution and leaves other with only temporary forms of protection that put them at risk of deportation, detention and prolonged instability;
  • Divides refugee families, leaving young children stranded in difficult and dangerous circumstances abroad and separated from their refugee parents in the United States.
  • Pushes the cases of genuine refugees into the over-burdened immigration court system instead of resolving their cases at the initial asylum office level;
  • Delays the adjudication of asylum cases that were referred into the backlogged immigration court system but could have otherwise been granted asylum more promptly before the asylum office; and
  • Diverts time and resources at both the asylum office level and the immigration courts, expending limited government resources litigating a technicality, when that time could have instead been allocated to evaluating the actual merits of asylum cases.

Despite the existence of some exceptions, this filing deadline has barred from asylum refugees who have well founded fears of persecution in their home countries. These refugees have included victims of political, religious, ethnic and other forms of persecution from Burma, China, Colombia, Guinea, Iran, Sierra Leone and other places. The report’s wealth of case examples include the denial of asylum to a Congolese nurse who was persecuted and tortured due to her human rights advocacy and her Catholic faith, as well as a denial for a teenager who was raped, kidnapped and battered in Albania while plans were made to traffic her into prostitution. The report also details the many measures that are in place to counter abuse in the asylum system, and describes how the asylum system was overhauled in order to eliminate incentives for the filing of fraudulent claims. The report describes how the filing deadline actually bars asylum requests regardless of whether the individual is a credible and legitimate refugee with well founded fears of persecution. The report concludes that the only effective and comprehensive remedy to these problems is for Congress to eliminate the filing deadline altogether. It notes that as long as there is a deadline – even if the deadline was significantly extended – there will be refugees with well founded fears of persecution who will be denied asylum on the basis of a technicality, and significant resources will be expended throughout the adjudication system to address the many issues relating to the applicability of this technical requirement. Acer concludes, “The deadline is inefficient, unnecessary and inconsistent with this country’s commitment to provide refuge to victims of persecution. Eliminating the deadline will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the asylum adjudication system.”


Published on September 30, 2010


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