Report: Asylum seekers with no legal representation twice as likely to lose case

Immigration

Advocates cite MPP as biggest obstacle to providing migrants legal advice

In this March 5, 2019, file photo, Ruth Aracely Monroy walks with her sons in Tijuana, Mexico. After requesting asylum in the United States, the family was returned to Tijuana to wait for their hearing in San Diego. A U.S. judge on Monday, April 8, 2019, blocked the Trump administration’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico as they wait for an immigration court to hear their cases but the order won’t immediately go into effect. Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco granted a request by civil liberties groups to halt the practice while their lawsuit moves forward. He put the decision on hold until Friday, April 12 to give U.S. officials the chance to appeal. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Immigration judges decided a record number of asylum cases in Fiscal Year 2019, according to an immigration data analysis center.

And while the number of people who received asylum in 2019 represents more than a two-fold increase over five years ago, the number of denials was almost five times as much compared to 2014.

Wednesday’s report by the TRAC Immigration Project at Syracuse University also shows that migrants who have access to attorneys are twice as likely to win asylum than those who don’t.

Overall, federal immigration judges decided 67,406 asylum cases between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019, TRAC reported. Of those, 19,831 won their cases and 46,735 lost them. Migrants with lawyers won their cases or got other forms of relief at a rate of 33%, compared to only 16% who self-represented. The overall national denial rate for asylum seekers was 69% in FY 2019.

(Graphic courtesy TRAC)

“Asylum denial rates rose during the initial months of the Trump administration, but stabilized shortly thereafter,” the TRAC report states. “Starting in June 2018, however, denials began climbing again after former Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions strictly limited the grounds on which immigration judges could grant asylum.”

Although the migrant caravans that originated in Central America late in 2018 grabbed the headlines, many of their participants have yet to get a “yea” or “nay.” The TRAC report says asylum applicants wait an average of 1,030 days (more than two and a half years) for a decision, and 25% of them wait nearly four years.

“Nearly half (45.3%) of the unrepresented asylum cases that began in 2019 have already been decided. In contrast, less that one in 10 (9.7%) of the represented asylum cases that began in 2019 have been decided,” the report states.

Asylum seekers without lawyers are more likely to get quick denials. (Graphic courtesy TRAC)

The majority of those who won asylum in Fiscal Year 2019 are Chinese citizens, followed by Salvadorans, Indians, Guatemalans and Hondurans. Fewer than 1,000 Mexicans won asylum during that period.

Migrant advocates in El Paso have complained about obstacles to providing representation to asylum seekers. The biggest hurdle cited is the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, which has sent more than 56,000 asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico.

“When they start to send people to Ciudad Juarez, that was huge change,” said Linda Rivas, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “Now the problem is they need attorneys on the border who are willing to fight for them in court despite the fact they’re not even in the same country where we practice law.”

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