Dear Asylum Division:

These days, I don't like to criticize you. I know that you're under a lot of pressure from the political higher-ups who hate the whole "asylum thing." But let's face it--your website stinks. Fortunately, help is at hand. I've taken the liberty of creating a new website, which will benefit not only beleaguered asylum seekers, but also the hardworking folks at the various Asylum Offices.

And yes, I know that the Asylum Division is in the process of redesigning its online presence. It is now possible to get some very basic information about an asylum case by entering the receipt number into the USCIS website (the receipt number is listed on the asylum receipt and starts with the letter Z).

Also, it should soon be possible to obtain an Info Pass appointment at the local asylum offices. If this system works, it will be better than what we have now (show up and hope for the best). But I'm worried that the asylum Info Pass will be as problematic as the current USCIS Info Pass system--these days, it's easier to score Hamilton tickets than to get a USCIS Info Pass appointment.

That's the (more or less) good news. The bad news is that the Asylum Office Locator has been changed as well, and it's less useful now than it was before. The page still contains the addresses and office hours of the local asylum offices, and where to mail an initial I-589 (which varies depending where in the U.S. you live). But other contact information--email addresses and phone numbers--that appeared in the previous iteration of the website is now absent.

I get it--the Asylum Offices want to save time by preventing people from calling or emailing (I want to do this too), but now the only way to communicate with them is to go in person (difficult, especially for people who live far from the office) or send a letter (yes, a letter, like snail mail). The old email addresses still work, and I imagine the phone numbers do to (I haven't tried to call the Asylum Office main number in years, as they rarely answer), but if you don't have that information already, you're basically out of luck.

All these changes are a mixed bag, but more can be done. The main problem with the current situation is the lack of available information. This is bad for asylum seekers, who are left in the dark, but it's also bad for the Asylum Office staff, who have to respond to repeated requests for general information (which perhaps explains why certain contact information was removed from the website). My theory is this: If the website answered more questions, asylum seekers would be more informed, less stressed out, and less likely to contact the Asylum Office for help. This is what we in the business call a win-win.

So I've designed a new website for you. It's attached below as a PDF. There are two parts--the Main Asylum Office Webpage and the Local Asylum Office Webpage. I've written it in outline format because I thought that would be easier to understand. Also, for the life of me, I can't figure out how to make a flow chart (sad, as I was once fluent in Fortran).

The main page is designed to tell asylum seekers how to file, and to explain the process. It also provides links to help people find information they need, and answers some common questions. The local page provides specific information about a person's local asylum office, including instructions for filing evidence, and information about expediting and short listing a case. If this information is available in multiple languages, that would also be a plus.

To be sure, my design, while quite lovely, is pretty basic and needs some work, but the main point is this--The Asylum Division should have a website that better serves asylum seekers. So, my friends at the Asylum Division, I proudly present you with your new Asylum Division Website Outline! I assume it will be up and running shortly.

You're welcome, Jason

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