"Rejected" means that these asylum seekers could, if they had sufficient resources, have pursued their case further in immigration court. Because the data systems used by DHS and the immigration courts (which are part of the Department of Justice) do not regularly coordinate and track cases, we cannot tell how many of these applicants were successful in immigration court. If immigration judges decided these cases the same way as the asylum officers, many refugees were ordered deported not because they failed to establish eligibility for asylum but because they did not file their applications within a year of entry. Even those asylum seekers lucky enough to win their one-year deadline arguments in immigration court faced the expense and trauma of an appeal, not to mention the delay, during which their family members remaining in their home country might suffer serious harm. (Spouses and children are eligible to join successful asylum seekers in the United States.)
The data give rise to concerns that certain populations were more adversely affected by the deadline than others. Women were significantly more likely to file very late (three or more years after the deadline had passed) than men, perhaps because they are more likely to suffer sexual violence and therefore more reluctant to reveal what happened to them. Moreover, women claiming asylum on gendered grounds, such as domestic violence and female genital mutilation, might not become aware that they are eligible under the law until they have lived in the U.S. for several years. Asylum seekers from certain countries, such as the Gambia and Sierra Leone, were much more disadvantaged by the deadline than applicants from other countries, such as Haiti and India. Though we can't know from the data the cause of this disadvantage, it is possible that the deadline particularly impacts refugees who do not have a strong community of immigrants from their home countries who can help to guide them through the asylum process.
Our recommendation? The deadline should be repealed, as several bills introduced in Congress propose. Short of repeal, the Obama administration should amend its regulations to broaden the scope of exceptions to the deadline and expand its training of asylum officers to encourage acceptance of a broader range of evidence and engagement in proactive questioning to establish applicants' compliance with the deadline.
(cross-posted on Concurring Opinions)
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