Explanation of Terms:
“Affirmative” refers to asylum cases won by simply submitting a thorough application, appearing for an interview before immigration judge, and delivering enough hard evidence there to confirm their right to asylum. These cases can be won in as little as a few weeks or take up to a year.
“Defensive” refers to asylum cases that appeared before the immigration judge, could not provide enough hard evidence to determine their case at that stage, and were therefore referred to immigration court. Defensive cases in Texas almost always take more than one year, and usually take several years.
Asylum cases won in the affirmative stage nationally are at 53% of the total wins, but Texas’s affirmative wins are less than half of the national average. In addition, asylum seekers must go to Huston, Texas for their affirmative cases, but they may plead their defensive cases at the Dallas Immigration court. Therefore, DFW has a high number of defensive cases – (i.e. the long cases)
The Asylum Process in DFW
Step 1: Affirmative Asylum
(Application and Interview with an Asylum Officer in Houston)
- Gather Evidence: the asylum seeker spends time gathering all the evidence they can to support their case for asylum, such as medical records, prison records, birth and death certificates, newspaper articles, eye-witnesses testimonies, expert witnesses etc.
- Application: Asylum seekers then complete and mail in the I-589 form, the application for asylum, which includes the evidence and their story. Asylum seekers have a one year filing deadline from the date of entry.
- Asylum Interview: USCIS gives the asylum seeker an interview date with an Asylum Officer in Houston, which is usually only a couple of months after the application was received.
Asylum seekers often have to return to Houston a couple of weeks after the interview to receive the decision. Some are granted asylum (a permanent status) in Houston, and this ends the process. In Texas less than 9% of Applicants can be granted asylum during their initial interview in Houston.
Only asylum seekers who arrive in the country with a valid visa , and do not declare asylum at the boarder are eligible to begin their asylum process with the affirmative interview.
Step 2: Defensive Asylum
(Dallas Immigration Court)
- Master Calendar: Asylum seekers are given a court check-in date called a “master calendar” where they must appear in the Dallas Immigration court to set a date for the asylum hearing (trial). The master calendar is usually several months after the interview. If they need more time to find a lawyer, or to gather evidence, or if the ICE attorney wants more time to research the situation, then there can be a second or even a third master calendar date can be set, called a “mater reset.” Several months pass between each master calendar, and sometimes the trial date can be set for a year from the date of the master calendar.
- Asylum Trial: Then, asylum seekers endure a tense, often all-day court hearing before an immigration judge, which resembles a criminal trial. The asylum seekers and their counsel must prove and defend with evidence their past persecution and well-founded fear of returning. ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement are the opposing prosecuting attorneys who try to poke holes in the asylum seekers’ stories, make them appear not credible, and convince the judge that the evidence is not strong enough for them to fear returning to their country. While asylum seekers are allowed to represent themselves, it is nearly impossible to win without an asylum lawyer assisting you to prepare, prove, and present their case.
Sometimes asylum seekers are given a decision in court that day. Other times, the judge wants to study the case further, and chooses to send the decision in the mail. Sometimes, asylum seekers do not receive a decision until 6 months after their trial.
Step 3: Appeals
- File Appeal: If the judge decides based on the trail that the asylum seeker does not meet the criteria for asylum, then they have a very short window of time to decide whether or not they want to appeal. Asylum seekers must make a case why the judge was wrong in his determination.