A new study on the asylum process and adjudication by DHS was published by three law professors in a new book, Lives in the Balance: 14 Years of Asylum Adjudication by DHS. Their findings are based on data from 383,000 affirmative asylum applications collected (with the approval of DHS) during the period October 1995 to June 2009. The authors – Philip G. Schrag, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Jaya Ramji-Nogales – combed the data for correlations between demographic factors and case outcome. The following are some of their findings: 

One-year Deadline:  The one-year deadline disproportionately affects different nationalities, yet 30 percent of affirmatively filed applications are submitted after the one-year deadline. 

GenderSince 1998, women who apply for asylum are more likely to be granted than men.  In 1998, legacy INS issued guidance about adjudicating gender issues and two highly publicized cases probably changed how adjudicators look at cases.

DependentsApplicants are more likely to win if they have dependents. Guatemalan applicants are two times more likely to be approved if they have dependents. 

Inspected EntryApplicants are more likely to win if they entered with inspection.

Overall, male applicants who entered without inspection and applied with no dependents and no legal representation had the LOWEST approval rate.  On the other hand, females with dependents who entered with inspection and had legal representation had the HIGHEST approval rate.

Being granted asylum is, unfortunately, also a matter of luck. Asylum officers have tremendous discretion over whether to approve an application, and the authors found large discrepancies between and within offices. In one office, the approval rate went from one officer who had a 2.5 percent approval rate to another who had a 92 percent approval rate. Overall, approvals increase when the officer has more experience. 

The authors outline four policy recommendations that would make the asylum process more impartial:

  • Repeal the one-year deadline as it disproportionately affects particular groups (including women.) This was not Congress’s intention when they set the deadline. 
  • Require that all asylum officers have law degrees. 
  • Fund a federal government program that pairs recent law graduates with asylum seekers to ensure that all applicants are granted proper legal representation. Asylees who apply for asylum without legal representation are denied much more often than those represented. 
  • Allow officers more time per case in which to evaluate applications and make decisions.  Currently, adjudicators are required to adjudicate nine cases per week. 

Much has been written about the “refugee roulette” that has characterized the U.S. asylum system for years now.  This book is yet another well-documented study that makes the case that the system begs for an overhaul.