Options for hopeful asylum seekers in New York are growing increasingly sparse, according to data released by the United States Customs and Immigration Services. Asylum officers are granting asylum at a rate about 50 percent lower than that in 2013, according to the data, in part due to a huge increase in people seeking asylum in the U.S.
Long Island based immigration attorney Bryan Johnson received the data in a Freedom of Information Act request dated May 16, 2018. The data spans fiscal year 2013 until fiscal year 2018, which is incomplete.
Grants of asylum begin with an interview with an asylum officer from USCIS which vets stories of potential asylees to determine the credibility of claims that they face threats of torture or death in their home countries, a standard known as credible fear. The officer can then either: grant the person asylum, deny their application or refer them to an immigration court.
About five years ago, New York City’s asylum office, instructed by the Obama administration, began prioritizing unaccompanied minors over other applicants due to the vast numbers entering the country, according to Ala Amoachi, a partner of Johnson. The City’s asylum office started scheduling interviews at 7:45 a.m. and sped up the timetable to get an interview from 45 days to two or three weeks. “That delayed every other class of applicants,” she said.
Before 2013, about one out of every 100 people arriving to the southern border sought asylum, according to a statement provided by the USCIS and was echoed by the Trump administration. Now, one in 10 people arriving to the border claim ‘credible fear,’ according to the agency. However, last year border crossings recently hit an all time low rate. In total, asylum case completions rose over 1300 percent nationally from 2009 to 2017, according to USCIS data.
As a result of the surge in applications in 2014, “the government cracked down on unaccompanied minors,” Amoachi explained. The office has denied many of those claim, she said.
In 2013, 1779 people were granted asylum through the New York City office. Most people were referred to an immigration court—6129 in total. Seventy people were denied asylum. That year had a grant rate of about 22 percent. In 2017, 1058 people were granted asylum and 8235 were referred to immigration court, for a grant rate of about 11 percent.
If asylum seekers are referred to an immigration court, they have to defend their right to remain in the United States to a high legal standard. The asylum office allows them to seek legal status in the U.S. with a non-confrontational, affirmative process.