PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit is seeking information about why the federal government is referring a greater percentage of asylum cases from Maine to immigration court.
The approval rate by the Boston office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for asylum seekers from Maine dropped from 40% in late 2016 to below 8% at the end of 2019, the Portland Press Herald reported.
Asylum seekers who lose their cases are referred to immigration court, where half of them are ultimately successful. But the trend toward more court referrals can keep asylum seekers from reuniting with their families and cause uncertainty while they wait years for their cases to be heard.
The FOIA lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine after getting no response to a public records request in 2019.
“These patterns of disproportionate denials and referrals have led to lengthy immigration court proceedings that burden the immigration court system, and delays in work permits and family reunification,” the lawsuit says.
The plaintiff’s attorneys said they have noticed a decrease in approvals for applicants from central African countries.
They are asking the court to force USCIS to hand over case files, written policies and other documents that could explain why the New England office now has one of the lowest approval rates in the nation.
A USCIS spokeswoman did not answer a question about the decrease in approvals and the disparity with the national rate.