The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a plan on January 31st to combat an issue that has plagued the agency for the past five years. USCIS is currently facing “a crisis-level backlog of 311,000 pending asylum cases as of Jan. 21, 2018.” If the problem is not properly attended to, the asylum system could become “increasingly vulnerable to fraud and abuse.”
“Delays in the timely processing of asylum applications are detrimental to legitimate asylum seekers,” said USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. “Lingering backlogs can be exploited and used to undermine national security and the integrity of the asylum system.”
Back when the Asylum Division was utilizing the “Last In, First Out” scheduling approach to asylum interviews, a reform that was used for 20 years until discontinued in Jan. 2015, the USCIS could reach a decision within 60 days of application. Now, according to Anita Rios Moore, a Public Affairs Officer from the USCIS, wait times could be as long 4 years in some locations.
Chicago News questioned Moore about why the heavy backlog exists in the first place, and why the wait time for asylum decisions have dramatically increased. The first reason Moore gave Chicago News was that there has been a “continued diversion of Asylum Division resources away from the affirmative asylum caseload to protection screening of border arrivals.”
Along with the relocation of resources, the Asylum Division has seen an increase in the number of applications for asylum, “especially by certain nationalities and groups, including Venezuelans, Central Americans, and unaccompanied children,” said Moore. Venezuelans are increasingly seeking asylum in the US as political tension and violence rises in their economically down-trodden country.
Moore also told Chicago News that there has been an increase in the number of “frivolous, fraudulent or non-meritorious asylum applications, including those filed by individuals whose true motivation is not necessarily seeking asylum but rather employment authorization and/or placement into removal proceedings.”
Over the last five years, the number of asylum applications have tripled, according to Moore, from 43,312 in 2012 to 141,695 in 2017.
These will be the USCIS’ top priorities when scheduling affirmative-asylum interviews:
• Applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the interview had to be rescheduled at the applicant’s request or the needs of USCIS;
• Applications pending 21 days or less since filing; and
• All other pending applications, starting with newer filings and working back toward older filings.”
With these priorities in mind, and a return to “last in, first out” interview scheduling, USCIS hopes to “identify frivolous, fraudulent or otherwise non-meritorious asylum claims earlier and place those individuals into removal proceedings.”