A regular liaison meeting between N.Y. and N.J. asylum office leadership and representatives of the New York and New Jersey legal community took place at the offices of the Immigration Coalition in NYC on February 4, 2015. Susan Raufer, Director of the Newark Asylum Office represented Newark Office. A staffer from the New York Asylum Office appeared at the meeting to represent New York Office. Members of various non-for-profits representing immigrants in immigration cases in NYC area and some members of the private bar including Wendy Barlow and Alexander J. Segal of the Law Offices of Grinberg & Segal, P.L.L.C. appeared for the meeting.
The following announcements were made:
- The approval rates for N.Y. and N.J. Asylum Offices have gone up significantly since the last liaison meeting which took place about six months ago. The approval rate now stands at about 49% for both Newark and New York Asylum Offices.
- A full fledged sub-office of the Newark Asylum Office have been created in Boston, Massachusetts with Meghan Boyle serving as a supervisor, to adjudicate applications of individuals residing in Massachusetts, Main, Connecticut north of Hartford and Rhode Island jurisdictions. Vermont and Northern New Hampshire will see officers from Newark still riding to the St. Albans Office for interviews. Mrs. Boyle supervises 7 officers and 3 support personnel.
Backlog Issues. Current Waiting Times
Because of the substantial influx of the unaccompanied minors and some of the adults presenting themselves at the southern border and asking for asylum, large portion of the Newark and substantial portion of the New York Asylum officers were dedicated to these cases. As a result, a large backlog was created in the late 2012 and early 2013 for affirmative asylum cases causing substantial delays in affirmative asylum adjudication. To deal with the backlog, Asylum Office Headquarters had to come up with the policy, which would need to walk a thin line between not encouraging affirmative filing for the sake of mostly getting EAD and facilitating adjudication of the UAC cases and freshly filed affirmative asylum applications to comply with the 150 day processing timeline. As the influx of the UAC cases increased dramatically, such policy failed and a decision has been made to turn to the first-come first-served policy for adjudication of the affirmative asylum applications.
As of now, the backlog stands as follows:
- Newark Asylum Office has 13,500 cases in their backlog.
- New York Asylum Office has 12,000 cases
- Nationwide the backlog stands at 70,000 cases.
Steps Taken To Deal with the Backlog
1. Both Asylum Offices are hiring and training new officers to keep up with the influx of the asylum applications. 50 new officers were hired recently nationwide. Additional 150 new officers and other DHS employees will be hired in a near future.
2. A Memorandum will be issued which will identify priority for asylum case adjudication. The priority will be as follows:
- Rescheduled Applications. When an affirmative applicant was scheduled for an interview and asked for the interview to be rescheduled, such cases will be given highest priority in the scheduling process.
- Unaccompanied Children/Minors (UAC). As DHS is opening up a large detention facility on the southern border with Houston Asylum Office having jurisdiction over asylum applications filed by its tenants, the number of UAC cases in the Newark Asylum Office jurisdiction is expected to drop significantly. Yet, those cases, which still fall into the jurisdiction of the Newark Asylum office, will have second higher priority for adjudication. New York asylum office does not deal with UAC or Credible and Reasonable Fear cases in any significant scale any longer.
- First in/First Out filing order. Cases filed earlier will be scheduled earlier so that currently filed cases will go to the end of the line and should expect about two years of wait time before they will be scheduled for an interview.
3. This situation might change significantly reverting back to the increase in the backlog if there is a spike in detention/credible fear interviews — usually around the end of April. Credible and Reasonable Fear interviews trump any priority and are always scheduled first in the following order:
- CF — Detained Applicants.
- RF — Detained Applicants.
- CF — Non-detained Applicants.
- RF — Non-detained Applicants.
As of now, Newark Asylum Office has dedicated ten officers to deal exclusively with the credible/reasonable fear interviews and three additional officers on detail in the southern border. All new officers will deal exclusively with affirmative asylum applications. New York Asylum Office has presently a very small number of Credible and Reasonable Fear Interviews.
A host of cases is required to be reviewed by the headquarters before final decision is reached. Current turnaround in such cases currently stands at about a few weeks. The priority is the same. CF/RF for detained applicants are reviewed first; CF/RF non-detained second and then UAC cases. USC cases get priority on the immigration court schedule as well unless administratively closed. Emergency interviews are only scheduled for extreme situations when a family member is in serious danger abroad.
Delay in Immigration Court Scheduling
When an application is not granted by the Asylum office and referred to an immigration court for removal processing but the court date is not being scheduled, such situations fall outside of the Asylum Office purview and need to be addressed with the immigration court having jurisdiction over the applicant's place of residence.
Nun Pro Tunc Asylum Applications
Nun Pro Tunc asylum applications are scheduled periodically. Both offices are trying to consolidate the load of applications and schedule as many Nun Pro Tunc interview on the same day as the schedule allows; all in order to avoid creating backlog in Nun Pro Tunc application adjudication. Two weeks ago Newark Asylum Office dedicated entire day to Nun Pro Tunc interviews. New York Asylum Office reserved February 17th and 25th for Nun Pro Tunc interviews. Both Offices suggest mailing Nun Pro Tunc applications directly to the Asylum Office having jurisdiction over the applicant's residence, instead of filing them with the Service Center. This way would facilitate proper and prompt scheduling as it would give upfront indication that the application is filed Nun Pro Tunc.
Relocation of New York Asylum Office
New York Asylum Office is scheduled to relocate to its new and larger facility in Bethpage, Long Island, New York in September of 2015. This date is tentative and may be further postponed if additional time is required for the Agency to relocate.
Officer's Handling of the Interview
Without an exception, all asylum officers are trained to ask simple questions when doing the interview especially when an interpreter is present. If the officer ask multiple question in one or otherwise makes him or herself not clear, the applicants and their attorneys are encouraged to bring it to the attention of the Asylum Office supervisors but not before reminding the officer at the interview to ask simple questions.
Treatment of Minors
The official policy of both offices is to discourage treatment of minors as adults as well usage of as aggressive tone by asylum officers during interviews with minors. If such problem arises, applicant and their attorneys are encouraged to make a complaint in writing addressed to the Asylum Office Director. In the complaint, they are requested to include specific details of the officer's behavior instead of general statements. Both applicants and their attorneys are allowed to seek attention of the supervisor during the interview if they feel that the officer's behavior creates immediate need for the supervisor's interference. Written complaints are not shared with the officer until after the officer makes a decision on the case. Such decision will not become final until after the case is thoroughly reviewed by the supervisor in light of the complaints made in the letter. In some situations, the case can be reassigned to another officer and another interview will be scheduled.
Bona Fides of the Marriage:
When marital relationship is directly linked to the underlying asylum claim, questions about the bona fides of the relationship are fair game. This situation is often encountered in a same-sex relationship. Such questions are needed in order to eliminate fraudulent and spurious asylum applications where people pretend to be in a relationship they're not in or someone they are not. The same applies when alleged persecution is based on familiar relationship and is part of the underlying asylum claim — familiar relationship with at ousted leader and persecution that sprawled from it is an example. Officers are trained not to ask question about sexual practices/preferences especially in the context of the same sex relationship. However, part of their job is to determine whether the person in from of the officer is indeed in the valid same-sex relationship or is an imposter.
Calling an applicant for a second interview, when the officer is unable to make a decision on the information collected, is discouraged by both offices. At the same time, such interview might sometimes be necessary and unavoidable. Applicants are encouraged to comply with such requests in those rare situations when a second interview is scheduled.
Either Immigration Judge or CBP officer determines whether the case falls under the UAC designation and as such gets scheduling priority. Such determination is made at the initial stages of the case. Asylum Office has no say in the matter and is bound by that determination. In rare cases when the asylum officer overturned such determination, the designation is restored and the Asylum Office is bound by it. If it did not happen on a specific case, the applicants and their attorneys are encouraged to bring this to the attention of the Asylum Office and the designation will be restored.