I wrote last time about recent updates from the Asylum Division. Here, I want to focus on one element of those updates: How the Asylum Offices are dealing with asylum applications from Afghan evacuees.

Since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August 2021, about 88,000 Afghans have been evacuated by the U.S. government and brought to our country. These are generally people who cooperated or worked with the United States or the prior Afghan government, plus their immediate family members. These Afghans would be at risk of harm or death in their country due to their affiliation with the United States or the prior government of Afghanistan.

Ideally, we would have brought these people here and given them permanent status, so they could feel stable and safe, and so they could start rebuilding their lives. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. A bill to regularize the status of Afghan evacuees--the Afghan Adjustment Act--has stalled in Congress, and so the evacuees are left in limbo, not knowing whether they can stay or whether they will have to leave. As a result, many evacuees have no other option but to seek asylum. This situation is absurd and insulting, and--adding injury to insult--the Asylum Offices are mishandling the Afghan's applications.

Let's start with the data. Between August 2021 and September 2022, the Asylum Offices received 7,100 applications from Afghan evacuees. Some applications include more than one person (spouse and children), but we do not know how many. Congress has mandated that Afghan evacuees be interviewed within 45 days of filing and receive a decision within 150 days. As of September 19, 2022, the Asylum Offices have conducted interviews in 2,900 cases.

The Asylum Division notes that, "Over 99% of these cases are completed within the 150 days mandated by Congress, absent exceptional circumstances." That phrase--absent exceptional circumstances--is an exception that likely swallows the rule. In my experience, very few evacuee cases are interviewed within 45 days or decided within 150 days. It does happen, but it is rare, and so I suspect that almost all cases involve "exceptional circumstances" and that few cases are actually completed within the time frame mandated by Congress.

Of the cases completed so far, the Asylum Division notes that, "we have an approval rate of 99%." This is good news, though it would be better news if we had some idea of how many cases had actually been completed. It also begs the question: If nearly all evacuee cases are being approved, why do these Applicants need to be interviewed at all?

One answer is that interviews and background checks are required by law. But the law does not specify how extensive the interview should be, and my experience has been that interviews often take several (or many) hours. This seems like an unnecessary use of Asylum Officer time and also places a heavy burden on applicants to prepare and present their cases (and to hire lawyers). The Asylum Division does not believe that evacuee interviews are too extensive--

While it is true that some interviews are taking longer than average, these lengthy interviews are happening for several reasons, including complex and extensive history of engagement in armed conflict and applicants’ lack of awareness of the asylum process and the extent to which we expect them to articulate their claim. These interviews are not inconsistent with interviews of individuals from other countries with similarly lengthy and complex histories.

I disagree. In my experience, Afghan interviews tend to focus on irrelevant details (Could the police during the pre-Taliban era protect you from terrorists? You have a well-founded fear of harm based on political opinion, but let's explore whether there are other bases for your case). Given the (allegedly) very high approval rates, it seems to me that any Afghan who was evacuated by the U.S. has a well founded fear of persecution. The only questions worth exploring are whether any bars to asylum apply (firm resettlement in a third country, terrorism or criminal bars, one-year filing bar, etc,).

Also, what's with the victim blaming ("these lengthy interviews are happening [due to] applicants’ lack of awareness of the asylum process and the extent to which we expect them to articulate their claim")? What claims do these Afghans need to articulate? Any human being who was evacuated from Afghanistan to the U.S. would be in danger if she returned to the Taliban. I am not sure what else needs to be said.

Despite my criticism, I have some sympathy for the Asylum Offices. They should not have to clean up this mess. Congress should have granted status to Afghan evacuees a long time ago. But since that has not happened yet, and the burden has fallen on them, the Asylum Offices should adapt their policies to more efficiently get through these cases. If they could exercise more flexibility in adjudicating these applications, the Asylum Offices would help fulfill our commitment to our Afghan allies and would also free up time to interview other, non-Afghan asylum seekers, including many who have been waiting in limbo for years.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com