Changes to the Asylum Process due to COVID-19
In response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control suspended the “introduction” of persons from “Coronavirus Impacted Areas.” Citing this authority, the Border Patrol began “expelling” individuals who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border without providing them with an opportunity to request asylum. CBP reported that, through April 2020, it had expelled nearly 21,000 people as a result of this new policy. The order was extended indefinitely at the time of publication.’
Furthermore, all MPP hearings at the border have been suspended through at least June 22, 2020, as well as the asylum cooperative agreements. As a result, the asylum process has been completely blocked for people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border during COVID-19, with the exception of some few individuals who cannot be “expelled” for logistics reasons.
How Long Does It Take?
The asylum process can take years to complete. A person may file an application or pass a credible or reasonable fear screening and receive a hearing or interview date years in the future.
- There were 339,836 affirmative asylum applications pending with USCIS as of September 2019. The government does not estimate how long it will take to schedule an initial interview for these asylum seekers, though historically delays have reached four years.
- With over 1.17 million open removal cases, the backlog in U.S. immigration courts reached an all-time high in April 2020. These cases had been pending for an average of 734 days and remained unresolved.
- By February 2020, individuals with an immigration case who were granted relief-such as asylum-had waited on average more than 930 days. In the immigration case, Illinois and Virginia had the longest wait times, averaging 1,300 days.
Asylum seekers and their families are left in limbo while their cases are pending. Backlogs and delays can cause prolonged separation of refugee families, leave family members abroad in hazardous situations, and make it more difficult to retain pro bono counsel able to provide legal services for a lengthy period of time for the duration of the asylum seeker’s case.
Although asylum seekers may apply for work authorization after their case has been pending for 150 days (or longer in some circumstances), the uncertainty of their future impedes employment, education, and trauma recovery opportunities.