It's been more than 100 days since President Biden took office, and I have to say, I don't think my clients or my fellow lawyers are feeling a whole lot better about the U.S. immigration system. This gut feeling is now backed up by data, thanks to a new report from the American Immigration Council ("AIC"), which shows the slow pace of improvement at USCIS.

As you may recall, the Trump Administration spent four years trying to dismantle the U.S. immigration system. And while certain immigrants (from Norway, for example) were theoretically welcome, most were not. The Administration never managed to amend the immigration law, but it did implement a number of rule-making, personnel, and policy changes designed to block non-citizens from obtaining legal status in our country.

For asylum seekers, these changes included making it more difficult and much slower to obtain a work permit, rejecting asylum applications for nonsensical reasons, focusing resources on fraud rather than adjudication, lengthening the Green Card process for asylees, and dramatically slowing the follow-to-join process for overseas family members of people granted asylum. The Administration made other changes that increased the backlogs in Immigration Court (where we recently passed 1.3 million pending cases) and the Asylum Office (386,000+ pending cases). Also, overall processing times at USCIS increased by 61% between FY2016 and FY2020. On top of the bureaucratic barriers, Mr. Trump's Attorneys General issued decisions narrowly interpreting the asylum law, thus making it more difficult for applicants to obtain protection.

During the campaign and the transition (to the extent there was a transition), Mr. Biden pledged to un-do the changes of his predecessor. As a result, asylum seekers and their advocates were anticipating rapid improvements. And to be fair, there were some important changes: Among other things, President Biden repealed the "Muslim ban" (on his first day in office), revoked the public charge rule, and eliminated the "no blank space" policy. He also worked with Congress to introduce the U.S. Citizenship Act (which seems unlikely to become law) and he proposed an increase in the USCIS budget to help deal with the asylum and naturalization backlogs (which hopefully will be implemented, but which won't have any effect until FY2022). These are all positive steps, but they have brought little relief to asylum applicants currently stuck in affirmative or defensive asylum purgatory.

As the AIC report notes, there is still much to be done, including stabilizing funding for USCIS, reopening consular processing services (75% of which remain fully or partially closed), ending duplicative interviews, and rolling back "extreme vetting."

In asylum world, I was hoping that several Trump-era policies would have been reversed by now. One prime candidate for elimination is the Trump Administration's rules on work permits, which increased the wait time to apply for an asylum-based EAD (Employment Authorization Document) from 150 days to a full year, and which made it more difficult and burdensome for certain asylum seekers to obtain a work permit at all (including those who filed for asylum outside the one-year deadline, those who entered the country without a visa, and those who have an arrest history). Another change--and my personal pet peeve--is the Last-In, First-Out ("LIFO") asylum interview policy whereby new cases receive priority over old cases. Under this system, asylum applicants who have been waiting for years for their interview are left in eternal limbo, without even an interview date to look forward to.

In a sense, I think asylum seekers and advocates need to give the Biden Administration some breathing room. One hundred days is a long time, but not a long time, especially given the mess that needs to be cleaned up. But by the same token, we have to hold the Administration to its promises. A case in point was Mr. Biden's campaign pledge to increase the Refugee Cap, which President Trump had reduced to historically low levels. The Biden Administration seemingly reneged on its promise and (briefly) announced that it would keep refugee admissions at Trump-era levels. After a burst of indignation from advocates, the new Administration reversed course, and earlier this week announced that it would increase the cap from 15,000 refugees to 62,500. I suppose this goes to show that advocacy can make a difference.

But even this is a bit disappointing. It's not hard to know what changes are needed to make life easier for asylum seekers. Speaking for myself, four years of the Trump Administration's hostility and mendacity has left me with little energy to keep pushing the government to do the right thing. We all worked hard to help elect Joe Biden. Now, I just want the Biden Administration to reverse the Trump-era rules, so I can get on with my life and do my job. This situation brings to mind an anecdote from President Obama. After they lobbied him on a particular issue, he told a group of advocates, "You’ve convinced me. I agree with what you’ve said. Now go out and make me do it." Even though President Biden may be on our side, I suppose we still have to push him to get the job done.

At the beginning of Mr. Trump's term, I described his policies as mendacity tempered by incompetence, and indeed, many of his regulatory changes were blocked by courts. But by the end of his Administration, the anti-immigrant rules were being implemented at a breakneck pace. We are still in the ramping up period of the new Administration. It takes time to get people and policies into place. Even so, we need the Biden Administration to do more, and to do it more quickly. After four years of Trump, many of us were hoping for a break. But we're finding that once we ascend one peak, there are many more ahead. Mountains beyond mountains. And so we must keep going.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: