HOUSTON – Data released this month by a Syracuse University database project showed most asylum claims made by migrants take years to be decided and are usually denied by immigration courts.
The school’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse has collected data on asylum cases brought to United States immigration courts since 2000.
Here’s a closer look at some key numbers found in the data regarding fiscal year 2019.
Number of cases
The data showed that there was a total of 67,406 asylum claims brought to the courts nationwide during the 2019 fiscal year. That’s up from 42,264 in the 2018 fiscal year.
In Houston, there were a total of 4,387 asylum claims that were decided by immigration judges during fiscal year 2019. In fiscal year 2018, a total of 3,129 of these cases were decided in Houston.
Of the nearly 4,387 asylum claims that were brought before Houston-area immigration judges in fiscal year 2019, about 95%, or 4,185, of them were denied.
In fiscal year 2018, the denial rate in Houston was similar. There were a total of 2,845 claims that were denied out of a total of 3,129 cases.
The high number of denials was also seen nationwide during the 2019 fiscal year when a total of 46,743 asylum claims were denied. That is up from 27,476 claims that were denied during the 2018 fiscal year.
Houston immigration attorneys Brandon Roché and Gordon Quan both tell KPRC 2 several new rules regarding asylum have made it more difficult to win cases. The federal government has narrowed who can apply for asylum, including the “third-country transit rule.” This rule requires non-Mexican migrants to first apply for asylum in countries they pass through. If they are denied then they can apply for asylum in the US.
“All of these different restrictions are being litigated, but going forward they are in effect and having a large impact,” said Roché. “The government’s attorneys are far less likely to compromise, they can’t.”
Quan echoed those sentiments.
“There is a lot of pressure for judges to move these cases along, which gives us less time to seek alternative relief,” said Quan. “There is also not as much prosecutorial discretion as there was in the past. Their hands are tied.”
As of Jan. 22, there is a backlog of 52,503 asylum cases in the Houston area. In Texas, the backlog stands at 173,130. Nationwide, the backlog stands at more than a million cases.
In Houston, the average wait time for an asylum case to be decided is at 1,068 days, or just about three years.
That number is slightly higher than the national average of 1,030 days.
Quan said that while the backlog remains a problem, he does see a glimmer of hope.
“I just had a case move from 2023 to 2020 and I am hoping to see that with more cases," said Quan.
The Executive Office of Immigration Review reports there are a total of 14 Immigration Court judges in Houston, and seven of those were hired since Jan. 1, 2019. A new immigration court facility was also opened this month in southwest Houston.
Houston ranks fifth in the list of U.S. cities when they are ranked by the number of asylum cases that were decided there during the 2019 fiscal year.
Who’s getting approval?
Nationwide, Chinese nationals had the highest approval rates among asylum seekers during the 2019 fiscal year. That was followed by El Salvador and India.