Based on the latest data (from July 2020), there are more than 22,000 asylum cases that have been interviewed, but where the Asylum Office has not yet issued a decision. Some of these cases have been pending decisions for months or even years. What's the reason for this post-interview delay, and what can you do if you were interviewed, but have not received a decision?

First, let's talk about some reasons for delayed decisions. One common reasons is the security background check. Before a case can be granted, each applicant is subject to a background check. This somewhat mysterious process involves reviewing multiple government databases to determine whether there are any "hits," meaning that the person's name or information raises a security concern. Such checks are largely outside the control of the Asylum Office, and can cause significant delay. At least in my experience, the delay tends to be worse for people (especially men) from majority Muslim countries. While background check delays are common for Asylum Office cases, they are almost non-existent for Immigration Court cases. Why this should be, I do not know. I once asked a prior Asylum Division Director about the discrepancy, and the only explanation I received was that the background checks are different at the two different agencies.

Another reason for delay is that each case needs to be reviewed by a supervisor, and the Asylum Offices are apparently short of supervisors. Related to this is the high turnover rate for Asylum Officers. When officers leave without completing a case, this seems to cause additional delay (since another officer has to review the case, get up to speed, and then complete the work).

Other cases--a minority--are delayed when they are referred to the Asylum Division headquarters for review. I've written before about the types of cases that get sent to HQ, but they include cases where the applicant is a diplomat or an unaccompanied minor, where there are terrorism- or national security-related issues, and where a case is likely to be publicized. Headquarters review can take time--at one point, the average wait time was more than one year.

The delayed decisions are particularly frustrating these days, since the Asylum Offices are interviewing so few new cases. Under these circumstances, you'd think they would have more time to complete cases that were previously interviewed, but we are seeing very few decision in such cases. Unfortunately, for many of these old cases, it feels like they have been forgotten, and there is no indication about when a decision will ever be issued.

If you are one of these unlucky souls whose decision is delayed, what can you do? Below are a few options that might be worth a try:

Inquire Yourself: Contact the Asylum Office directly to ask about your case. The most effective way to do this is by email. Such inquiries rarely help, but there is no harm in trying. If you have an urgent need for the decision (due to a health problem or family separation, for example), inform the Asylum Office about the situation (and provide some evidence), and ask them to expedite the decision. It just might work.

Congress: You can contact your Congressional Representative or Senator to ask for help with the decision. Generally, in my experience, this option is not very effective, but there is no harm in trying. It may be more effective if you have a U.S. citizen friend, church group or employer who can make this request for you.

DHS Ombudsman: You can inquire with the DHS Ombudsman’s office about your case. This office exists to assist people who have delayed or problematic cases. The Ombudsman’s office is not terribly helpful, but again, there is no harm in trying. If you plan to make an Ombudsman inquiry, it is a good idea to try one (or more) of the above methods first, as the Ombudsman will want to know what you've done to try to resolve the issue.

Mandamus: If you have been awaiting your decision for a long time, and you have exhausted the other options, you might try filing a mandamus lawsuit against the Asylum Office. In a mandamus lawsuit, you sue the Asylum Office and ask a federal judge to order the Asylum Office to do its job (i.e., process your case). Generally, the Asylum Office will not want to waste resources litigating mandamus suits, so they might agree to process the case rather than fight the lawsuit. As I see it, there are two downsides to a mandamus lawsuit: (1) There is not a strong legal basis to force the Asylum Office to process a person’s case. The regulations generally require asylum cases to be processed in less than six months, but there are broad exceptions to this time frame, and the Asylum Office can rely on those exceptions to process cases more slowly. Although the suits may not be very strong legally, they can still succeed where the Asylum Office would rather make a decision in the case than fight the lawsuit; and (2) It can be expensive to hire an attorney to process a mandamus lawsuit. For applicants who can afford this approach, however, it might offer a way to move things along.

Unfortunately, most asylum seekers face delay at every step of the process. It is unfair that the Asylum Office simply does not do its job and make timely decisions, but that is where things stand. For those who have already been interviewed, perhaps some of these ideas can help you push the Asylum Office to issue a decision.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: