HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — Fast-tracked immigration cases appear to be hurting migrants’ chances of being granted asylum, researchers are finding.
“The big takeaway message is that the Biden administration really is trying to speed up cases but data shows when you speed up cases they lose,” Syracuse University professor and researcher Austin Kocher told Border Report as he toured the South Texas border on Wednesday.
Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, one of the nation’s leading researchers on immigration court cases, on Tuesday released a study that found that since July, asylum grant rates have fallen and it “coincides with the extremely rapid increase in expedited cases.”
Although Fiscal Year 2022 had the largest number of individuals granted asylum of any year in immigration court history, in digging into the data, researchers found that the quicker the cases went through the courts, the lower the asylum seekers’ chances.
TRAC found that when asylum cases were completed within three to 18 months, only 31% of cases were granted asylum.
“More asylum cases were granted last year than any other year but the grant rate is actually going down in recent months,” Kocher said.
Border Report met up with Kocher on Wednesday as he was on day 5 of his visit to South Texas as part of a seven-week research tour of the entire Southwest border.
He said immigration cases require collecting massive amounts of evidence and documents, and TRAC data has found that migrants who retain lawyers have a higher chance of being granted asylum. He said the rushed cases could be limiting and preventing asylum-seekers from gathering all the data they need to present full cases to the judges, and it could be preventing them from getting legal counsel altogether.
“We definitely know that the Biden administration has tried to accelerate these cases to try to clear out the backlog,” Kocher said. “They really are taking the backlog seriously and they really do want asylum cases to get decided more quickly but the problem is, as the data shows, that if you really speed cases up individuals don’t always have time to get attorneys and they don’t always have time to gather the full application materials that are necessary.”
TRAC reports nationwide there are 1.9 million active pending immig cases.
Kocher crossed into Reynosa, Mexico, early Wednesday, and said he spoke with several migrants there who expressed their lack of resources and lack of legal aid as they wait across the border due to Title 42 restrictions.
Title 42 is a public health policy put in place by the Trump administration that prevents asylum seekers from crossing the border in order to curtail the spread of COVID-19. A federal judge earlier this month gave the Biden administration until Dec. 21 to wind down its use of Title 42.
Many migrants are amassing south of the Rio Grande hoping to be able to cross into the United States when the policy is lifted.
But it’s unclear whether another policy will be put in place to stem a massive surge to the border, and how, or if, the Biden administration will put measures into place for migrants who want to cross and claim asylum in the United States.
“My sense from the groups on the ground is just that they are very interested in knowing how the government plans to respond,” Kocher said after several hours in Reynosa on Wednesday morning visiting three migrant shelters. “And they just aren’t really getting any communication. And so one of the big things that I also take away is just a sense of uncertainty.”
He is spending two weeks in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley — his first trip to this part of the border. He has already visited San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. His next stop, he said, is El Paso and Juarez; and then Tucson and Nogales, Arizona.
He says he has learned on this tour how different the various border regions are.
“One of the things that we’re learning is just how much regional and local variation there is. The way that things work in Brownsville may not be exactly how they work in Reynosa, or how they work in San Diego or El Paso. And so by spending some time on the ground and talking to people in the system who are going through the system, we just want to understand with much greater depth, the kind of work that we’re doing so we can help it make more sense to the public,” he said.
He’s also learned the importance that non-governmental organizations play, he said.
“The thing that stands out to me the most,” Kocher said. “is just just how much the groups on the ground, the local organizations are playing such an important role in shaping who has access to representation, who has access to support, who has access to medical services, and all of these things contribute to who even has the opportunity to go through the asylum process in the first place. And so even though we’re getting data from the from the federal government, it’s not always the federal government that’s driving all of the trends that we’re seeing.”