Human Rights First Finds Asylum Seekers Waiting Years in USCIS Backlog Which Delays Safety and Integration for Refugees

WASHINGTON ––  As the Biden administration works to strengthen and enhance the capacity of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Division to provide life-saving asylum protection, it must prioritize cases of asylum seekers who have been waiting for years, often separated from their families. It must boost its capacity to conduct full asylum interviews rather than diverting resources through expedited removals.

Today, Human Rights First released a report on the asylum office’s current case backlog, which exploded under the Obama administration when they expanded the use of expedited removal and grew worse under the Trump administration. The report, Protection Postponed: Asylum Office Backlogs Cause Suffering, Separate Families, and Undermine Integration, highlights the devastating effects of this massive backlog and suggests solutions to address these delays.

In its analysis of the asylum backlog, Human Rights First found:

  • The asylum office backlog grew to more than 386,000 pending applications by the end of fiscal year 2020, with the highest number of pending applications from Venezuela.
  • Wait times in the backlog are years long. More than 300 asylum seekers represented by Human Rights First and its volunteer attorneys have been waiting, on average, more than four years for an interview.
  • Harsh and flawed border policies, including expedited removal, worsen the backlog by diverting Asylum Division resources away from resolving pending asylum claims.
  • The human consequences of the backlog are devastating and prolong family separation for years, leaving children and spouses stranded abroad in often dangerous or difficult situations as they wait years for asylum interviews.

“The Biden administration must do better to protect asylum seekers and protect those living and working in our communities,” said Anika Ades, the Masiyiwa-Bernstein Fellow at Human Rights First and co-author of the report. “These backlogs cause and exacerbate trauma and fear, and deny refugees the opportunity to request timely U.S. asylum protection. While President Biden inherited the backlog, it is imperative that his administration restore respect for human rights, including the right to seek asylum. Every day the backlog persists is another day that the United States denies safety to people fleeing for their lives.”

Human Rights First called on the Biden administration to address the USCIS backlog, including:

  • Prioritize applications pending the longest while also scheduling interviews for children and other recently filed applications;
  • Stop the use of expedited removal, avoiding diversion of Asylum Division resources;
  • Create more efficient processes including electronic filings, online scheduling, decrease unnecessary referrals, and establish an application route for cancellation cases;
  • Ramp-up asylum office hiring for full asylum interviews, boost retention, and consider authorizing overtime for asylum officers who volunteer to help clear the backlog;
  • Create uniform, effective processes for asylum seekers to request advancement of  cases that need urgent adjudication due to family separation or other pressing concerns;
  • And revoke remaining illegal Trump-era policies.

“We call on the Biden administration to prioritize the cases of asylum seekers who have been waiting for years, and to modernize and improve the asylum office to promote efficiency,” said Kennji Kizuka, Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst in Refugee Protection at Human Rights First, and co-author of the report. “These reforms are particularly critical as the Biden administration looks at ways to expand the capacity of the Asylum Division to provide life-saving asylum protection and make clear that effectiveness can be enhanced without sacrificing fairness.”

To read the full report.


Published on April 9, 2021


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