The U.S. Asylum System in Crisis: Charting a Way Forward

Doris Meissner, Faye Hipsman & T. Alexander Aleinikoff
Date of Publication: 
September, 2018
Source Organization: 
Migration Policy Institute

Since the beginning of this decade, the number of asylum claims in the U.S. has ballooned. The USCIS Asylum Division, which handles the applications of those who apply affirmatively for asylum (before they’ve been placed into removal proceedings), now has a case backlog of more than 300,000, with hundreds of thousands more asylum claims stuck in the immigration courts. As a result, asylum seekers with authentic claims are kept in limbo for months or years, while others may be gaming the system, taking advantage of years-long delay. The authors of The U.S. Asylum System in Crisis: Charting a Way Forward explain how the current backlog developed and what is driving the near-record level of annual asylum claims. The crisis in the asylum system, they point out, is not unprecedented, and this report looks back at reforms instituted in the mid-1990s, when the asylum system was even more overwhelmed with annual filings and a backlog of nearly 500,000 cases. Those reforms resulted in new cases being decided in a timely manner and the eventual elimination of the backlog. The authors make a series of recommendations for handling the current crisis, which they believe can reduce the backlog and ensure that cases are decided in a timely manner. Recommendations include: prioritizing the most recent cases to be filed, a process already begun; and developing a special process for handling cancellation of removal cases — an idea designed to handle cases of long-resident undocumented immigrants who are increasingly filing affirmative asylum claims as a way to be placed into removal proceedings where they can file for cancellation of removal (available to undocumented individuals residing in the U.S. for ten years or more). Ultimately, the authors note, a long-term solution to the current crisis will involve investment in countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America, to help them gain control of the violence driving thousands of families to make the trek north in search of protection. (Maurice Belanger, Maurice Belanger Consulting)

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Meissner, D., Hipsman, F., & Aleinikoff, T.A. (2018). The U.S. Asylum System in Crisis: Charting a Way Forward. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from