My associate Ruth Dickey continues her review of data from our cases filed at the Arlington Asylum Office. She reports her findings here:

One of the biggest sources of client frustration is delay after the asylum interview. Clients are often separated from family members who remain in danger. They feel as though the future is uncertain, and they see no end in sight to their ordeal. The lack of a final decision is stressful and depressing.

Attorneys also face stress and extra work due to delayed decisions. For example, we repeatedly contact the Asylum Office about our clients' cases, we answer client questions, and we renew employment authorization documents. We have resisted charging more money for this extra work, but it makes operating a business very difficult. Also, we have almost no power to make the decisions arrive faster, and so we feel the stress of our clients' frustration without being able to do much about it.

Looking at data from 136 of our cases—filed in 2013 and 2014 in the Arlington, Virginia Asylum Office—we can see that about one-third of the cases have been interviewed but are still awaiting decisions. The charts below compare cases filed in 2013 with cases filed in 2014:

The Arlington Asylum Office is working through cases filed in 2013. But unfortunately, it is moving very slowly—we currently have no cases scheduled for interviews in Arlington.

The Asylum Office generally has a goal of issuing its decision two weeks after the interview takes place. Our data shows that they usually do not meet this goal. Of our interviewed cases, only about 1-in-5 applicants received a decision within two weeks of the interview:

For clients who have been interviewed and have received decisions, wait times vary widely. The median wait time for 2013 and 2014 cases was 34 days – but ranged up to 719 days (and keep in mind that this does not include data from people who have been interviewed and who are currently waiting for a decision). The following chart shows the wait time until a decision was made, by interview date:

Of course, dozens of our clients have not gotten decisions yet, and so we do not know how long they will ultimately wait.

As the next chart shows, we currently have several clients who have been waiting over a year for a decision, and a few who have been waiting for more than two years. If these clients’ information were added to the chart above, it would tell an even more dismal story since they have already waited far longer than the median wait time for cases where a decision was issued.

Lastly, let’s look at recommended approvals. Recommended approvals are issued in cases where the Asylum Office is convinced that a case meets the standard for asylum, but the background check is not yet complete. People with recommended approvals can apply for employment authorization, but cannot sponsor their family members who are waiting to join them in the U.S. The following chart shows how long our clients have waited from the date of the recommended approval to the date of the final decision (never mind how long they might have already waited to get the recommended approval). Information about people who have received recommended approvals and who are still waiting for their final decisions are also shown in the same chart:

Despite making numerous inquiries about our pending cases, we have never received a specific answer as to why delays occur. Usually, the Asylum Office informs us that the delay is due to the security background check. However, it is unclear why the background checks take so long for affirmative asylum seekers, but do not cause delays for other applicants seeking benefits from USCIS. Interestingly, asylum seekers in Immigration Court do not face these types of delays either, even when they come from conflict zones or countries where terrorism is a concern. Only affirmative asylum seekers seem subject to these inordinate delays.

Can we draw general conclusions about the operation of the Arlington Asylum Office based on our data? It is difficult to say. Many of our clients come from places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where security-background-check delays are more burdensome. Also, our sample size is relatively small. Nevertheless, our findings comport with what we hear from other attorneys and applicants with cases in Arlington (and other asylum offices).

Since the backlog began in 2013, the Asylum Division has been working to improve the situation by hiring more officers and modifying some of its procedures. We are hopeful that the asylum system will continue to change to better meet applicants’ needs. Until then, we will continue to analyze data from our cases.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: