New England congressional leaders are calling for a federal investigation into the region’s low asylum office approval rate.
US Senator Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and seven other Democratic lawmakers from Massachusetts and Maine published a letter on Thursday requesting a formal review from the Boston asylum office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes refugee claims in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine.
Lawmakers said their request to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office was prompted by “Lives in Limbo,” a march Maine immigrant advocacy groups report which revealed that the Boston office approved 15.5% of asylum applications between 2015 and 2020.
This is the second-lowest approval rate among the country’s 10 asylum offices, after New York, and nearly half the national average of 28% over the same period, according to the organizations, which included the University of Maine School of Refugee Law and Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
The report found that the Boston office’s approval rating fell to 11% in 2021 even as the national average remained at 27%. The office had 20,400 asylum applications pending as of December 2021, according to the report.
“The report establishes that the Boston asylum office is an ‘outlier’ among other asylum offices nationwide,” the members of Congress wrote Thursday. “But that makes the consequences of its low asylum rate no less concerning.”
Spokespersons for USCIS and the Office of the Inspector General of Homeland Security did not respond to emails seeking comment on Tuesday.
The Maine organizations argued in their report that the Boston office is “dominated by a culture of suspicion and distrust of asylum seekers.”
They said they found evidence of national origin and language bias, as non-English speakers and those from African and Middle Eastern countries were less likely to be granted asylum.
They also found that the office’s overwhelming backlog of cases played a significant role in its low approval rate.
“These pressures create an intense work environment with time pressures, overwhelming workloads and high rates of burnout that incentivize referral rather than asylum,” the officials said. organizations in their report.
Markey and other lawmakers say the inspector general’s office should launch an investigation to determine if and why the approval rating is so low and to make sure asylum seekers get a fair chance to have their claims heard. case.
USCIS asylum offices can either refuse applicants outright or refer cases to federal immigration court, a longer process overseen by the US Department of Justice.
“Asylum seekers may ultimately have to wait years for their cases to be resolved,” the Maine organization’s report said. “Meanwhile, they are separated from family members abroad who often remain at risk.”