Right to Asylum in the United States—“Asylum Free Zones”

Individuals have the right to seek asylum in the United States in a system that fairly considers their claims for protection. However, certain immigration courts within the U.S. system have utterly failed to provide meaningful access to asylum, denying virtually all asylum claims before them. These are what we call “asylum free zones.” Recent figures show that the nation-wide average asylum grant rate in immigration courts hovers at just above 50%. But in the Atlanta, GA immigration court, for example, the grant rate is only 2%, meaning 98% of claims are denied. Asylum seekers face similarly daunting odds in other jurisdictions; for example the immigration court in Eloy, AZ denies over 93% of asylum claims, while the court in Charlotte, NC denies 87%. The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which houses the immigration courts, has known of this problem for many years—multiple studies by scholars and the government itself have documented the astronomical denial rates of certain courts—yet failed to take corrective action. The extreme disparities reflected in asylum free zones cannot be explained by normal case variation by neutral decision-makers. CGRS filed a request for a hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing that the conduct of EOIR’s immigration courts violates the human rights of asylum seekers, including access to a meaningful forum to hear their claims, and the U.S. obligation of nonrefoulement (a concept which prohibits the return of people to countries where they fear persecution). The Commission granted our hearing request, which you can watch here.

CGRS collaborators in the request include:

  • American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Georgia-Alabama Chapter
  • Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)
  • Innovation Law Lab
  • Latin American Coalition, Immigration Law Clinic
  • University of the District of Columbia, Immigration and Human Rights Clinic
  • Washington and Lee University, Immigrant Rights Clinic.

Led by the Innovation Law Lab, advocates including CGRS have established the Center of Excellence (CoE), now operational in two “asylum free” jurisdictions, Atlanta and Charlotte with more cities to follow, to change the culture of hostility to asylum in these courts by bringing equilibrium to the balance of power tipped in favor of prosecutors through litigation, advocacy, and data collection.

Read our submission to the IACHR here.

Watch the testimony from our December 7, 2016 hearing at the IACHR here!