Statistics Reveal the Scope of the Asylum Backlog

A lot of asylum claims, but few asylum grants

By Andrew R. Arthur on November 25, 2019

Some eye-popping statistics were reported recently that quantify the scope of the asylum backlog, both at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and at the immigration courts.

In a November 21 post, I broke down a November 19, 2019, interim final rule captioned "Implementing Bilateral and Multilateral Asylum Cooperative Agreements Under the Immigration and Nationality Act". That rule was issued by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in the Department of Justice and USCIS in the Department of Homeland Security. Among the takeaways:

  • In the past 10 years, the percentage of aliens in expedited removal proceedings referred by Border Patrol to USCIS for credible fear interviews jumped from approximately 5 percent to more than 40 percent.
  • In FY 2018, 110,136 aliens in ER proceedings were referred to USCIS, including 99,035 for credible fear interviews and 11,101 aliens for reasonable fear interviews. In FY 2013, by comparison, only 43,768 aliens in ER proceedings were referred by Border Patrol to USCIS for credible fear interviews (36,035) or reasonable fear interviews (7,733).
  • Between 2013 and 2018, the number of affirmative asylum claims, which are filed by aliens present in the United States with USCIS Asylum Offices, increased from 44,453 to 106,147.
  • As of the end of FY 2019, 340,810 affirmative asylum applications were pending with USCIS.
  • Some 114,532 defensive asylum applications were filed with EOIR in FY 2018, while 48,922 additional affirmative asylum applications were referred that year to EOIR. In FY 2013, by contrast, 23,500 defensive asylum applications were filed by aliens in removal proceedings with the agency, and USCIS referred an additional 19,963 affirmative asylum applications to the immigration courts.
  • As of October 11, 2019, more than 476,000 asylum cases were pending with EOIR (48 percent of the immigration-court backlog of 987,198). This is despite the fact that the number of immigration judges has increased by 80 percent since 2010, as well as the fact that those immigration judges completed twice as many cases in FY 2018 than in FY 2010. The average asylum case currently takes EOIR 816 days, or almost 117 weeks, to complete.
  • Most aliens in expedited removal cases in which credible fear was found were denied asylum by the immigration courts:
    • In FY2018, 34,031 aliens in expedited removal received positive credible fear findings and were referred to immigration court to apply for asylum.
    • Of that number, 13,369 aliens (approximately 39 percent) failed to file an asylum application, abandoning their claims. Most of those aliens likely simply used the credible fear process to bypass expedited removal and obtain entry into the United States.
    • By comparison, only 5,577 of those 34,031 aliens were ultimately granted asylum.
    • Thus, only 27 percent of all aliens who were referred to immigration court after a positive finding of credible fear and who applied for asylum were granted asylum, a percentage that dropped to 16.4 percent when all aliens in expedited removal who were referred by USCIS are included.
  • While it could be argued that these numbers represent just a snapshot, the total number of successful asylum claimants in immigration court is similarly low. In FY 2018, immigration judges adjudicated 64,223 asylum applications, granting only 13,173, or 20.5 percent.
Topics: Asylum