If you look at the most recent statistics from the Asylum Division, the likelihood of receiving asylum affirmatively is only about 27%, nation-wide. However, if you remove people from the mix who filed late, or who failed to appear for their interviews, the situation is better: Nearly half of such cases (49%) were approved.

The obvious lesson here is this: If you want to win asylum, file your application within one year of arriving in the United States and show up for your interview.

That's the nation-wide picture, but when we look at data for the various Asylum Offices, things become less clear. Different Asylum Offices have very different denial rates for one-year bar cases (asylum seekers are required to file for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States or to meet an exception to the one-year rule; otherwise, they are barred from receiving asylum). The table below shows the likelihood that a particular Asylum Office will deny (or more politely, "refer") an application for failure to timely file (the chart excludes cases where the applicant failed to appear for an interview):
Asylum Office Percentage of Cases Referred to Court for Failing to File Within One Year of Arrival
Arlington 34.2%
Boston 52.9%
Chicago 13.2%
Houston 13.8%
Los Angeles 16.8%
Miami 40.3%
Newark 33.9%
New York 53.6%
New Orleans 27.3%
San Francisco 20.6%
United States 30.6%

Why should the different offices be so different in terms of late-filing referrals? It seems to me that there are two possible explanations, broadly speaking: Either the Asylum Offices are responsible for the disparity, or the asylum seekers themselves are responsible.

The first possibility is that certain Asylum Offices are more aggressive than others about enforcing the one-year bar. I know this is the case with Immigration Judges. I am thinking of two IJs in my local court (two of my favorite IJs, by the way). I have presented several one-year bar cases to these judges. One almost invariably denies the asylum application based on the late filing (though in my cases, he granted other, lesser relief); the other looks to the "spirit" of the rule, and as long as the applicant did not have a bad intention (for example, to commit fraud), he usually excuses the late filing. It's easier to see how this could happen with individual judges, rather than as an office-wide policy, but I suppose this is one possible explanation for the variability between Asylum Offices. If this is the correct explanation, then it makes sense for late filers to choose more friendly offices, such as Chicago or Houston, to file their cases (meaning, such people would have to live in the jurisdiction of these offices).

The other possible explanation is that the different offices are receiving different types of cases. Maybe asylum seekers in New York are too busy or too ill-informed to file their cases on time, while those in Houston have more free time, or are just more conscientious. To me, this seems a bit far-fetched (though I guess New Yorkers are pretty busy). Or maybe it has to do with the different populations served by each office. Maybe--for example--Chinese applicants are more likely to file within one year of arrival, since the Chinese community is well-aware of the one-year rule. In contrast, perhaps Central American applicants tend to arrive in the U.S. without an initial intention to seek asylum, but then decide later that they cannot return home, and in this way, they run afoul of the one-year bar. If LA has more Chinese applicants and New York has more Central Americans, perhaps this could explain the disparity. If (and its a big if) this explanation is correct, then it really doesn't matter where you apply for asylum, as the different Asylum Offices are not responsible for the uneven one-year denial rates.

A third, hybrid explanation is that some Asylum Offices are cherry-picking their cases, and interviewing more one-year bar cases than timely-filed cases. We know, for example, that the Asylum Offices sent letters to asylum applicants who filed after 10 years in the U.S. and offered them an option to skip the interview and go directly to Immigration Court. If some offices, and not others, are deliberately selecting late-filed cases to interview, that could explain the disparity.

Frankly, I do not have much confidence in any of these explanations. But the disparity does exist and the fact is, some Asylum Offices are significantly more likely than others to deny asylum based on the one-year bar. So what can you do with this data? Does it mean that if you are filing after the one-year deadline, you should avoid Boston and New York, and instead file in Chicago, Houston or LA?

Given that it is difficult to draw a firm conclusion from the data, and given the severe consequences of filing late, the simple answer is to avoid the problem altogether by filing your asylum application on time. For those who miss the one-year deadline, it is important to prepare an explanation (with evidence) about why you filed late (I wrote about that here). This advice applies regardless of which office has your case. But I suppose the question here is: If you are filing late, should you move to a jurisdiction with an "easier" Asylum Office? (And remember, if you want your case heard by a certain office, you have to live within the jurisdiction of that office--you can check which office will adjudicate your case here).

I hate giving advice about where a person should live, but looking at the available data, it is impossible to say that a late-filer is not better off in one of the "easier" offices, like Chicago, Houston, LA or San Francisco. Obviously, there are other factors to consider--most people have to live where they have family support or a job. Also, in some instances, the one-year bar is easily overcome (for people who are still in status, for example) and so there is no reason to worry about which office has your case. But for those with more difficult one-year bar issues, it may make sense to "forum shop" and move someplace with an Asylum Office that is less likely to deny a late-filed application.

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