Welcome to 2024! What better way to start off the New Year than with some predictions!

Just so you know, if some of these prognostications seem a bit negative, there is no need to worry: My success rate with prophesying is quite low, and so hopefully, I will be wrong. With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get started. And remember, if any of these predictions happen to come true, you heard it here first!

The Immigration Court Backlog: According to TRAC Immigration, the Immigration Court backlog grew from 2 million people in November 2022 to more than 3 million people in December 2023. That's about 1 million additional cases added to the backlog in just over a year. This means that on average, each Immigration Judge (IJ) in the United States is now responsible for about 4,500 cases. Assuming that case loads continue to grow at a consistent rate, EOIR would need to hire at least 220 new judges, just to maintain the 4,500 cases per IJ ratio. However, the FY2024 budget only provides for 150 new judges. Thus, unless something changes in terms of caseload growth, 2024 will see larger backlogs and increasing delays in Immigration Court. Also, since IJs will have so little time per case, we can probably expect lower quality decisions. Finally, the government will probably continue to rely on prosecutorial discretion to try to reduce the number of pending cases, and so PD should remain an option through 2024.

The Asylum Office Backlog: The backlog of cases at our country's Asylum Offices has also been growing at an unprecedented rate. In September 2022, there were about 543,000 pending cases. By September 2023, there were more than 1 million pending cases. Keep in mind that these are cases; not people, and some cases contain more than one person (spouse and children). One challenge at the Asylum Office is hiring and retaining staff. As of September 2023, only 760 out of 1,028 Asylum Officer (AO) positions were filled. Another challenge is that AOs must prioritize credible fear interviews (initial evaluations of asylum eligibility at the border) over "regular" affirmative cases, and as long as the U.S.-Mexico border remains busy, it will be difficult for AOs to focus on pending asylum applications. The FY2024 budget provides for a handful of additional AO positions, but unless the agency can actually hire people to fill those positions (and retain their employees over time), we can expect the backlog to keep growing in 2024, particularly if the situation at the border does not ease up. On the other hand, the Asylum Offices had been giving priority to certain cases from Afghanistan, and now that most of those cases should be completed, they may have some extra capacity. We shall see, but overall, I still expect few asylum interviews or decisions, except perhaps for those applicants who file mandamus lawsuits to force the Asylum Offices to complete their cases.

The Border: Unless there are significant changes to the law, I doubt we will see any reduction in the number of people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. By "significant changes," I mean new laws passed by Congress to either (1) limit who is eligible for asylum or (2) provide significant additional resources to process asylum cases. Given the mood of the nation, I think option #2 is a non-starter. Option #1 also seems unlikely, given that some Democrats do not want to limit asylum and Republicans benefit politically from continued chaos at the border. In other words, I doubt there is a political coalition capable of passing a new law to ameliorate the situation at the border. If that is correct, we can expect record-high numbers of migrants to continue coming to the U.S., with all the attendant effects on backlogs at the Asylum Office and in Immigration Court.

International Migration: There seemed to be a theory within the Biden Administration that if we create alternate pathways for asylum seekers from the biggest source countries, we we will satisfy the existing need to migrate and we will reduce pressure on the Southern border. This is the idea behind the parole program for nationals of Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, which allows 30,000 people per month to come to the United States. However, as I see it, if more people come here, more people will want to come here. It is effectively impossible to satisfy the demand of migrants to come to the United States. In 2024, I only expect this demand to increase, given the problems of climate change, war, and poverty. Unless Congress and the President take some concrete action, the border will remain a political and policy challenge in the year to come.

The Election: Speaking of politics, 2024 is an election year. I'm not going to predict the outcome, but it is apparent that immigration in general, and the border in particular, will be issues in the 2024 election. If Donald Trump and the Republicans win, non-citizens--and democracy itself--will be in grave danger. Unfortunately, advocates for immigrants seem not to grasp our precarious situation. They continue to call for more expansive and open asylum policies, which seems to me completely out of step with the nation's electorate. This is nothing new; for years, asylum eligibility has been expanding through litigation, and this has led to a widening disconnect between our immigration policies and public sentiment. The inevitable result was a backlash, which helped elect Mr. Trump in 2016 and may very well return him to office later this year. I think a better approach would be to impose some restrictions at the border in exchange for helping those millions of people whose cases are already pending. While I do not know whether immigration advocates will move in this direction, I hope they will recognize that defeating MAGA extremists needs to be the primary goal for us all, and this may require difficult compromises.

Refugee Travel Document: Let's end with a positive prediction. I expect that after 15+ years of effort (and yes, that is literally 15+ years; I am not exaggerating), USCIS will finally amend its regulations to increase the validity period of the Refugee Travel Document. Supposedly, agency employees have been trying to tack on the RTD extension to other proposed regulations, and call me an unbridled optimist if you must, but I think 2024 will be their year.

So there it is. I wish you a happy, healthy, and immigration-reformy 2024!

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com