The Rate of Successful Asylum Cases Shot Up This Year. But That’s Probably Not Due to Biden

There’s been a significant uptick in the rate at which immigrants have been granted asylum since President Joe Biden took office, new research shows. But that likely has nothing to do with the new President’s policies.

The success rate of asylum cases increased from 29% and 37% between Fiscal years 2020 and 2021 during Biden’s tenure, according to a report released Wednesday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. This is a research and data organization at Syracuse University. Looking only at the period Biden has been in office, the success rate has been 40% — and as high as 47% in September.
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“The obvious inference is, oh, well this is because of Biden,” says Austin Kocher, assistant professor and researcher at TRAC. However, Kocher points out that there have been no significant policy changes by the Biden administration to change how asylum judges will rule on asylum cases.

Kocher suggests that the greater rate of granted asylum may actually be due to an interplay of factors. For example, more asylum seekers this past year have had legal representation — and, historically, having a lawyer significantly increases the odds of winning asylum. The reason behind the increase in legal representation is not clear. Researchers suggest that lawyers representing strong clients may have succeeded in getting their cases on the front burner.

A second factor could be the nationality or origin of the persons whose cases were heard. In the past, asylum applications from China have been more successful than those filed by Central American or Haitian nationals. “The country that people are from goes a long way in determining who gets asylum,” Kocher says. The U.S.’s foreign policy goals and geopolitics have played an important role in shaping asylum decisions.

Absolute number of individuals grantedThe low level of asylum is due in large part to courts not returning to pre-pandemic rates after COVID-19 shut downSome court activity “The immigration courts have absolutely not recovered at all, not even a fraction really,” Kocher says. “We still have only had barely more than than 2,000 cases completed a month even right up until the end of September [2021].”

Many immigrants are still waiting years for their decision

The schedule for immigration courts is 1.5 million behind. This means that thousands of asylum seekers have waited for years to see their cases decided by a judge.

This backlog was aggravated by a partial shutdown of the immigration courts that began in March 2020, as COVID-19 spread throughout the U.S. TRAC reports that approximately 10,000 asylum applications were being decided per month in the past by immigration judges, before COVID-19. This number decreased after the epidemic. Judges were only deciding less than 2000 asylum cases per month in April 2020.

Continue reading:Five Things You Need to Know about Asylum and Its Workings

Fiscal Year 2021 ended September and just 238,000 asylum cases were decided by courts. That’s down from 60,000 cases that were decided in Fiscal Year 2020. TRAC analyzed the data received via a Freedom of Information Act request and found that approximately 8,350 individuals won their asylum claims in FY21. This is about half of those who were successful in their claims in FY20.

Researchers note that 400 additional people received relief from deportation during FY21, but it was not asylum.

Asylum seekers may have to wait for their cases to be heard at court. Before the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to wait as long as four years to hear a case.

“The key thing here in terms of what’s driving a lot of the data is really getting past the pandemic,” Kocher says. “Until the immigration courts are fully open, and society is fully back to normal there’s just no way that the courts are ever going to be able to really get through these cases.”


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