AILA First-Time Survey of Asylum Practitioners Asks and Answers the Question: What Does it Take to Prepare a Migrant for the High-Stakes Asylum Proce
Washington, DC — Today, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) released a first-of-its-kind report on asylum timelines, High-Stakes Asylum: How Long an Asylum Case Takes and How We Can Do Better. The report is based on a survey of over 300 asylum attorneys about how much time it takes to prepare an asylum application, and what complications add significant time. High-Stakes Asylum includes recommendations on how to inject efficiency into the existing asylum process and ensure the integrity of a system that has life and death consequences. High-Stakes Asylum includes the anatomy of an asylum case from start to finish and finds that even a relatively straightforward asylum case takes 50 to 75 hours of preparation. The complexity and time needed for preparing an asylum case has significant implications for how asylum seekers are processed today. The use of expedited removal and accelerated timelines is on a collision course with offering a meaningful opportunity to access legal counsel in these life-or-death adjudications.
AILA President Jeremy McKinney noted, “For people fleeing violence and persecution, nothing is more important than finding safety and lasting protection through asylum. Until now, no resource has lifted the veil and revealed the inner workings of an asylum case. Attorneys are doing their best to ensure fairness and justice in a harrowing and time-consuming process that is guaranteed to dredge up trauma, a process often unnecessarily made far more difficult when a client is detained. This report brings together the experiences of more than 300 asylum law practitioners and their clients and offers recommendations that would go a long way toward ensuring the integrity of a system that is inefficient and often unjust.”
AILA Executive Director Benjamin Johnson stated, “The political pressures to shorten and truncate the asylum process right now are enormous. There is intense interest in speeding up decisions, but a huge gap in recognition that there are key steps in an asylum case that can’t be thrown out. The solutions in this report, determined through careful review of the real-life experiences of attorneys, would make the system fairer and faster. Policymakers must not make decisions about the laws and policies that affect the most vulnerable in a vacuum, absent the realities shared by on-the-ground practitioners. I urge policymakers to use these insights and implement these changes.”
- The Biden Administration should establish uniform policies, centralized systems, and appropriate information sharing between immigration agencies. For example, agencies should centralize and digitize address changes across all agencies and simplify access to a noncitizen’s immigration record.
- When setting asylum processing deadlines, the Biden administration should allow adequate time for an asylum seeker to obtain counsel and for the attorney to prepare for the case. Timelines should not rush trauma survivors who may need more time to recount their experience, and reasonable continuances should be allowed to obtain an attorney or for attorney preparation.
- Finite prosecutorial resources should not be spent on cases that can be resolved more expeditiously. ICE OPLA attorneys should engage in pretrial negotiations and exercise prosecutorial discretion.
- Everyone needs access to an attorney to provide legal advice and information prior to any hearings, including the CFI. Congress should appropriate DOJ funding to provide full legal representation to those in removal proceedings who cannot afford it.
- Detention facilities must be held accountable to policies that ensure attorneys have reliable confidential contact visits with clients, as well as access to free and confidential phone calls and video conferences. Violations of standards must be penalized.
- Ensure asylum seekers and other migrants being processed rapidly at the U.S. southern border have access to legal information, advice, and full counsel during credible fear interviews, CBP inspections, and immigration court proceedings.