"I'm still waiting for a decision in my asylum case."

As conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated, I find myself representing increasing numbers of Afghan asylum seekers.  Many are young men who have worked with the United States military.  Others are journalists or other media types who have appeared on television in Afghanistan.  Still others worked for human rights groups and women's rights groups.

One thing that my clients have in common is that they are all trying to bring about peaceful, democratic changes to their country.  As a result of their activities, my clients faced threats from the Taliban.  A number of my clients were attacked, and some had close relatives killed by the Taliban.  Because the Afghan government cannot (and in some cases will not) protect them, my clients are seeking asylum in the U.S.

Another thing my Afghan clients have in common is that their cases are being held up for "security" checks.  I'll explain below why I put the word security in quotation marks.

But first, a bit of background: The majority of aliens who file affirmative asylum cases receive a decision two weeks after their interview.  Apparently, cases with Afghan asylum seekers are reviewed by headquarters.  This takes a lot longer than two weeks.  So far this year, I have been to 11 asylum interviews: five from Afghanistan, six from other countries (five from Ethiopia and one from Iran).  All five of the Afghan cases are still pending.  Of the other six, we have decisions in all cases except one (the Iranian case).  In my longest-pending Afghan asylum case, the applicant was interviewed more than seven months ago; we are still waiting for a decision. 

According to an Asylum Officer I spoke to, the reason for the delay has to do with "security."  Obviously, there are legitimate concerns about people coming from Afghanistan and seeking asylum in the U.S.  But there are several reasons why I am skeptical about these "security" checks.  For one, many of my Afghan clients worked closely with the U.S. military, and they have letters, certificates, and photos (often with high-ranking military and civilian officials, including some who were photographed with President Bush) to prove it.  Such individuals have already been subject to some pretty serious scrutiny, so it is not clear what additional checks are necessary.  Second, all the Afghan asylum seekers were screened for security issues in Afghanistan before they received their U.S. visas.  Since nothing suspicious was found in Afghanistan, it seems unlikely (at best) that anything would turn up during an additional security background check in the United States.  Finally, my clients are currently in the United States.  If they are dangerous, they should not be walking freely around our country for six months (or more) while USCIS checks to see whether they pose a security risk.  If USCIS believed that a particular asylum seeker presented a threat, I image (and I hope) that they would detain the person immediately.

A number of my clients have family members in Afghanistan who are hoping to join their relative in the United States if asylum is approved.  Some of these people are living in precarious circumstances and face threats from the Taliban.  It is frustrating and frightening for my clients and their family members when they have no idea how long until they will receive a decision.  It is not fair to keep people waiting in limbo.  I hope that USCIS will consider improving the processing time for Afghan cases.  If they cannot do that, I hope they will at least provide an estimate to the asylum seekers about how long a decision will take.  Treating asylum seekers with respect and dignity means processing cases as quickly as possible and being as open about the waiting time as circumstances allow.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.