Someone--maybe a new age guru--once defined for me the Buddhist concept of time: Once every hundred years, a monk walks up to a mountain and brushes it lightly with a feather. In a short time, the mountain will be eroded to nothing.

This is also good way to think about the asylum backlog. If you assume that the mountain is growing. And you assume that the monk sometimes forgets to show up.

If you're stuck in the backlog, you don't need anyone to tell you how slow it is. The wait is particularly painful for asylum seekers separated from spouses and children, but it is bad for everyone. The effects are psychologically and financial, lives are put on hold, career and education opportunities are missed, time with loved ones is lost forever. People who are often already traumatized are re-traumatized by the endless waiting and uncertainty.

So what's happening with the backlog lately? The latest data we have is from June 2018. It's not always easy to understand the statistics from the asylum office, at least for me, but here, I will discuss what we know.

First off, the backlog, which has been growing for years, seems to have leveled off this Spring. Between April and June 2018, the backlog grew from 319,056 cases to 319,563 cases. That's a growth rate of less than 0.1% per month. Does this mean that the Asylum Division is finally getting a handle on the backlog? Maybe, but I think it is still too soon to know. One issue is that when the system changed from FIFO to LIFO in January 2018, the volume of new cases dropped. Now that lawyers and applicants have mostly adjusted to the new system, we might expect a higher volume of cases post-June. Also, it seems more people have been arriving at the Southern border lately, and this likely will divert resources that would otherwise have been used to adjudicate affirmative asylum cases. In any event, we'll have to keep an eye on the overall numbers to see whether the trend from this Spring continues.

Second, from the chart below, which contains information from June 2018, you can see that some offices are doing better than others in terms of interviews and decisions. A number of offices are completing more cases than they are receiving (Chicago, LA, Newark, NY, and San Francisco). Logically, you would think this means that these offices are interviewing all new cases that come in, and making progress on backlogged cases. But I am not so sure that is true. If you look at the number of interviews actually conducted, you can see that only Los Angeles and Newark are interviewing more cases than they are receiving. So for me at least, how many new cases and backlogged cases are being interviewed and decided is still something of a mystery (also, remember, these numbers are just a snapshot from one month--June 2018).

Office New Cases Interviews Scheduled/Conducted Cases Completed
Arlington 885 637/374 664
Boston 259 292/160 221
Chicago 611 690/507 750
Houston 752 397/253 440
Los Angeles 867 2,145/1,113 1,230
Miami 2,046 1,494/929 1,298
Newark 692 1,635/911 1,179
New York 946 1,494/815 1,180
New Orleans 204 374/117 201
San Francisco 605 1,147/646 730
TOTAL 7,867 10,307/5,825 7,893


There are other mysteries contained in these numbers. Why are so many interviews scheduled, but so few actually conducted (less than 57% of scheduled interviews were conducted in June 2018)? Some interviews are cancelled by the Asylum Offices; others (more) are cancelled by the applicants. You would think that under LIFO, most applicants would file a complete case and be prepared for an interview when it comes, but maybe not (and if you're wondering, the reschedule rate was about the same under FIFO).

Another anomaly--though not quite a mystery--appears in the numbers for the Miami Asylum Office, which is receiving far more new cases than any other office. The reason? It may be because Venezuela has surpassed all other countries as a source nation for asylum seekers, and I suspect that these applicants largely land in Miami. Indeed, if you look at the top sending countries for asylum seekers, you will see that for the last three months (at least), Venezuelans make up more than 25% of all affirmative asylum seekers in the United States.

One final point for today. I posted previously about the declining grant rate for affirmative asylum cases. At that time (February 2018), the overall approval rate for FY 2018 cases was 26%. The most recent numbers paint a similar picture. The overall approval rate for April 2018 is 23.5%. The rate for May is 26.3%, and for June is 25.0%. However, if we remove from the mix cases where the applicant did not show up for the interview, where the applicant declined an interview (and went directly to court to seek other relief), and where the application was denied due to the one-year bar, the situation is better: The approval rate under those circumstances for April 2018 is 41.4%. May is 44.5%, and June is 43.0%. So this means, generally speaking, if you file for asylum on time, and you show up to your interview, you have a decent chance of winning your case. Let's call that good news, and end there for today. Au revoir!

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