Shortening the Asylum Claim Backlog
By Antonio Stedeford
Immigration is a hot button topic in our country. It continues to receive attention based on how our politicians and the American people view it. On a continuous basis we see an influx of people coming to the U.S. with fears of being persecuted in their home countries. They came to seek protection in the United States. This protection is called asylum, and it is defined by American Immigration Council as “a protection granted to foreign nationals already in the United States or at the border who meet the international law definition of a “refugee” (www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org). Seeking asylum is done through an application in which these refugees must prove that they are being targeted based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a political group or political opinion. The conflict seen with this application process is that U.S. courts are receiving an overwhelming amount of applications, there by forcing asylum seekers to wait an average of 721 days, and being left in limbo as they await a hearing.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently released a statement saying, “We are facing a crisis-level backlog of 311,000 pending cases, which represents a 1,750 percent increase over the last five years”. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review currently the federal immigration officials have received 12,831 applications from Mexican applicants and only granted 464 people asylum. Viewing the issue on an annual basis, statistics from the NY Times show that currently with President Trump in office the country is looking at an average of 809,041 pending cases in immigration court. The NY Times also identifies that during Trump’s term he is responsible for the 50 percent increase in these cases. This is a significant issue as the United States places all these applications on a large backlog pile. As they wait, asylum seekers are not allowed to work or seek public identification for as little as six months; therefore, legally, they would not be capable of receiving an income while waiting.
The advocacy group, Human Rights First is seeking to develop a way to shorten the process of seeking asylum. They urge the the system to change its ways as the current process has contributed to this level of crisis. Eleanor Acer, Senior Director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights Firs stated “We urge USCIS to ensure a fair process for those asylum seekers with pressing humanitarian needs—such as children stranded abroad and those with medical concerns — to request and receive a timely interview.”
On a local level in Philadelphia the Nationalities Services Center is an organization which works tirelessly to protect, and help asylum seekers. The NSC has worked to help over 5,000 total refugees and immigrants starting new lives in the United States each year. Development Manager Danielle McGrogan states that at the NSC when it comes to the process, and awaiting asylum during that long period of time, the NSC works to prepare new asylum seekers to fully integrate into the community and gain all the essentials to live their daily life.
Dr. Bethany Welch Ph. D, Executive Director of the Aquinas Center in Philadelphia is another advocate who assists asylum seekers who come to the U.S. looking for new opportunities. Welch explained, the process of seeking asylum in the past was much easier. “Several years ago, it was pretty standard that you just declare yourself at a port of entry for the United States and ask for asylum.” Most likely, people would be granted entry right at that time and were capable of starting their life in the United States. However today Welch says, “Something asylum seekers don’t understand is the amount of time it takes. Some asylum cases can take up to three to four years during which time you don’t have any government income, you’re not eligible for any government assistance, and do not have work authorization.”