The very low asylum approval rate of the USCIS offices located in Boston sparked an investigation into the matter by New England legislators.
After facing a lawsuit for the long delay in processing naturalization applications, USCIS is once again under public scrutiny, this time for the very low asylum approval rate in Boston. A group of legislators called for an investigation of the Boston asylum office after a report with alarming statistics from that USCIS office came to light.
It turns out that Boston’s asylum approval rate is considerably lower than the national average, although it ranks second to last among the other nine asylum offices. The asylum approval rate in Boston is only 15.5% for the period from 2015 to 2020.
The national average for the same period is 28%. This information has been compiled in a report by several organizations, including the ACLU of Maine and the Human Rights and Refugee Organization of the University of Maine School of Law. The Boston Asylum Office processes refugee applications for locations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine.
The asylum approval rate in Boston continued to drop in 2021 to just 11% of approved applications.
Discrimination regarded as main cause of USCIS Boston office low asylum approval rate
After examining the office’s dealings, the researchers found that people from African and Middle Eastern nations, as well as non-English speakers, were less likely to receive asylum at the Boston office compared to other nationalities. This would constitute, according to the report, a prejudice of language and origin among the immigration officials who review the applications.
USCIS employees who review applications have the option of approving them or referring them to the immigration courts. If they choose the latter, the review process is no longer in the hands of USCIS and is transferred to the Department of Justice. Review by an immigration court is a considerably longer process. For many refugees, this means a long wait in vulnerable situations.
The large backlog of asylum cases also plays a role in the low rate of approvals
The report also revealed that the office’s backlog also impacts how USCIS officers review applications. Currently, USCIS processes – be they asylum, visa or adjustment of status applications – are highly delayed by the accumulation of applications that could not be processed on time, largely due to the closure of offices during the first months of the pandemic.
The negative impact on the work environment generated by this situation would result in jaded officers who prefer to divert the processing of the case instead of doing it themselves.
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Edward Markey sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari asking to investigate the Boston asylum office. Edward Markey and seven other Democratic lawmakers have called for the office to be investigated to determine if and why the percentages are low in order to ensure fair treatment of refugee claims.
“We write to request that the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General immediately open an investigation into the Boston Asylum Office to determine whether, and if so, why its grant rate is so low, and to take appropriate steps to ensure that the rights of those seeking asylum in the United States through the Boston Asylum Office are protected and enforced.”
Excerpt from Senator Markey’s letter.
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