There's never a lack of bad news to report in asylum world, but it's almost the New Year, and so I'd rather focus on the positive. A year ago, I wasn't sure whether President Trump would even leave office, but--fortunately for our democracy--he did. At the time, immigrant advocates were hopeful that President Biden would reverse many of the bad policies enacted by his predecessor. While change has been slower and less consistent than expected, there are certainly positive developments to report.

Most obvious is the general attitude towards asylum seekers. During the Trump Administration, officials from the top down viewed asylum seekers as fraudsters and criminals who were intent on cheating the system. While many of the lower-level appointees from the Trump Administration remain, the overall attitude towards asylum seekers is certainly more balanced and respectful. The tone from the President and his leadership team is also more positive. And that makes a difference "in the trenches," where decisionmakers are more willing to grant relief when they don't feel that such a decision goes against their bosses' preference.

There have also been some positive changes in the substantive law. Several Board of Immigration Appeals and Attorney General decisions from the prior Administration have been undone, and the state of the substantive asylum law has largely returned to where it was during the Obama Administration. One notable exception here is the U.S.-Mexico border, which remains a mess. Title 42, which excludes certain asylum seekers based on the ongoing health emergency (the pandemic) is still in effect, and the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their court hearings, also remains in effect (the Biden Administration attempted to end MPP, but it was reinstated by a federal judge).

Another substantive change has involved refugees. The prior Administration had slashed refugees admissions, largely gutting that important program. The Biden Administration has (somewhat reluctantly) increased the refugee admission "ceiling" to a level higher than we have seen in over two decades. Given the pandemic and other obstacles, it is unlikely that actual admissions will approach the ceiling, but it is important for the U.S. to show leadership with regards to refugees, and so the increase is good news.

Also, of course, the Biden Administration reversed the "Muslim Ban," ending a shameful and discriminatory policy, which had far wider implications than simply blocking certain people from obtaining visas. Indeed, the ban was a blatant attempt to divide "real" Americans from "others" and this caused (and continues to cause) harm to those affected, as well as to our international reputation. Good riddance to that bad policy.

Enforcement priorities have also been changed, so that interior enforcement for noncitizens without criminal issues is no longer a priority. Worksite raids have also supposedly ended, as have enforcement actions at churches and courthouses. Hopefully, this will focus ICE's attention on bad actors and leave otherwise law-abiding noncitizens in a more secure position, so that they can pursue available remedies without fear of detention.

On a more personal note, 2021 saw the publication of my new book, The Asylumist: How to Seek Asylum in the United States and Keep Your Sanity. The book provides guidance to asylum seekers and advocates about how to navigate the dysfunctional asylum system. Profits from the book have been going to immigration charities, and so if you buy a copy (or two), you will learn something about asylum and support a good cause (and yes, I will continue to bug you about buying the book next year, so get used to it).

We also saw some success with our efforts lobbying Congress to help affirmative applicants with long-delayed asylum cases. As a result of our efforts, 40 members of Congress wrote a letter to DHS and USCIS expressing concern about the delayed cases, and requesting that the Asylum Office prioritize the oldest cases. These efforts will continue in 2022 with the U.S. Senate, and hopefully, some of this will bear fruit in the new year.

Finally, and most importantly, a number of our clients were approved for asylum at the Asylum Office and in Immigration Court. In December 2021, for example, we received approvals for several Afghans--including a very prominent journalist--as well as the relative of a Rwandan political opposition leader and a "mixed marriage" (Christian-Muslim) couple from Bangladesh.

So there were positive developments in 2021, both at the national level, and in my own practice. To some extent, I know that I am trying (and not necessarily succeeding) to convince myself that things aren't so bad. But it is important to see the good as well as the bad. It is important to have hope. I am hopeful--and I believe it is a realistic hope--that the Biden Administration will hit its stride and that we will see some real improvements in the coming year.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2022!

Originally posted on the Asylumist: