In the Balance

Backlogs Delay Protection in the U.S. Asylum and Immigration Court Systems

Executive Summary

As the world faces the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, the need for effective, timely, and fair processing of asylum claims could not be greater. But the U.S. asylum and immigration court systems are failing refugees. Chronic underfunding, hiring challenges, and shifting enforcement strategies have left the asylum office and the immigration courts in a state of crisis. More than 620,000 removal and asylum cases are pending, and many asylum seekers are waiting three to six years for resolution of their claims. The growing backlogs threaten to undercut the integrity of the U.S. immigration system and expose vulnerable people and their families to prolonged separation and anguish as they wait.

“I left my home and lost my home over there, nobody knows when the bombs [will] come,” says one asylum seeker from Syria. Delays have left him—like thousands of others—stranded in legal limbo and unable to bring his family to safety in the United States until his asylum request is granted. “When you hear every day from your daughters that ‘we want to come,’ and they start to cry when they hear the bomb noises, it’s horrible.”

Since 1978, Human Rights First has represented refugees seeking asylum in the United States in partnership with pro bono attorneys at law firms. With offices in New York, Washington, D.C., and Houston, Human Rights First has a national, on-the-ground perspective of the challenges faced by asylum seekers. Staff attorneys and pro bono partners alike identify the backlogs as the number one problem facing their asylum clients today. Human Rights First currently represents, with its pro bono partners, more than 550 asylum seekers stuck in the backlogs .

As detailed in this report, there is strong and diverse support for addressing the backlogs. The Bipartisan Policy Center, American Bar Association, the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo), editorial boards from Texas to Los Angeles, and bipartisan Congressional leaders have all called for additional resources. Representative John Culberson (R-TX) said additional funding “will help reduce the growing backlog of cases that are holding up our courts and compromising the rule of law.”

The report examines the impact that systemic delays in both the Asylum Division of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the immigration courts have on the integrity of the U.S. immigration system and on asylum seekers and their families. It also offers solutions for eliminating the backlogs and lessening delays.


Published on April 19, 2016


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