May 9, 2018 - Politics & Policy

U.S. faces surge of asylum claims under Trump

Since the start of the Trump administration, immigration courts have faced an unprecedented wave of asylum applications from immigrants already caught up in deportation proceedings, according to new Justice Department data first given to Axios.

Data: Executive Office for Immigration Review; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios
Data: Executive Office for Immigration Review; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Why it matters: This surge has contributed to the record backlog in immigration courts, which in turn, creates long wait times for immigrants. It also slows down deportations and immigration law enforcement, Gary Mead, former Executive Associate Director for ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operation, told Axios.

The big picture: It's not just asylum applications. The overall number of new immigration cases was higher in 2017 than any year during the Obama administration. Still, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) managed to get through the most cases since 2012 last year — and is on pace to complete around 15,000 more this year.

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions has introduced several policies to speed up immigration decisions, but cases and applications keep rolling in.

Between the lines: Increased immigration enforcement — such as the record number of ICE arrests — and growing public awareness of the asylum process have likely contributed to the trend, according to a DOJ official and two former Department of Homeland Security officials.

By the numbers

The big stat: EOIR received 119,144 defensive asylum applications last year — meaning they occurred while immigrants were already in deportation proceedings — compared to 68,530 in 2016.

  • There were only 30,179 asylum decisions in federal courts in 2017, according to data collected by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
  • Last year, EOIR granted the highest number of asylum applications since Obama took office at 6,988, but — because of the jump in applications — the percentage of successful applications was the lowest in at least eight years.
  • Almost 5,000 asylum seekers were ordered to be removed because they did not show up to their court date — another record since at least 2007.

The state of play: Last year, immigrants claiming asylum in both defensive and affirmative — they turned themselves in — situations received the highest denial rate since at least 2007 at 35%.

  • The 2018 denial rate as of the end of March was 41%.
  • Yes, but: The DOJ has not yet released denial numbers or rates for specifically defensive asylum claims.
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