A recent report from TRAC Immigration reveals that the nation-wide asylum denial rate in Immigration Court has reached a 25-year low. That means that a higher percentage of asylum seekers are receiving asylum than ever before.
The statistics show that in Fiscal Year 1986, 89% of asylum applications in Immigration Court were denied. For the first nine months of the current fiscal year, only 50% of asylum cases in court were denied.
The most obvious explanation for the higher grant rate is that a larger proportion of asylum seekers are now represented by attorneys--for FY 2010, 91% of asylum seekers were represented by attorneys; in 1986, only 52% of asylum seekers were represented.
For those not represented by counsel, the difference in grant rate is stark: For FY 2010, only 11% of unrepresented asylum seekers received asylum in immigration court. While this demonstrates the importance of legal representation, I suspect it also reflects the fact that aliens with weak claims often cannot find pro bono representation (law firms won't take cases that are not meritorious). Thus, this statistic may not be quite as bad as it seems.
Another reason for the improved grant rate may be that aliens are applying for asylum less frequently than in the past. Since FY 2003, when Immigration Judges decided 35,782 asylum cases, the number of asylum cases has dropped to a projected 19,937 for FY 2010. Perhaps aliens have become more savvy about what constitutes a bona fide claim, and they are more selective in making their applications for asylum.
Finally, the TRAC report shows that the asylum grant rates for individual IJs continues to vary widely, though there seems to have been a slight improvement. I have always felt that more guidance from the BIA--in terms of more published decisions--would help to reduce these disparities.
The best news from the TRAC report is that most asylum seekers are now represented by legal counsel. Hopefully, this means that their claims are being presented properly and that few aliens with meritorious claims are being denied.