This week, I am angry.
Angry at the government, angry at international organizations, angry at the systems that have produced the pain that I see in the eyes of the clients I meet.
The asylum system in the United States has many faults, but, in my opinion, the biggest one is that asylum is discretionary. This means that even if the applicant checks all of the boxes under the statutory requirements for asylum, the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer or the immigration judge can still deny the application as an exercise of discretion. This leads to ridiculously unfair outcomes for asylum cases. This brutal inequity in the asylum system is evident in Atlanta, where GAIN is located. The immigration judges in the Atlanta immigration court have a combined denial rate of around 95%. This means that only 5% of the thousands of asylum applications filed are granted in Atlanta. Denial rates also vary based on nationality, gender, age, and language of the asylum applicant.
The anger I've felt this week began when we met with an asylum applicant to conduct a mock asylum interview. This was the third asylum application the client was filing (the previous two were denied). I watched my coworker ask the client questions about his home country and the harm he faced there. Even though it was just a practice interview, my coworker grilled him about every little detail from his asylum application. He asked question after question trying to break down the client and find any reason for refusing asylum. My coworker wasn't trying to be adversarial - he was simply preparing the client for the kind of questions he would get in the real interview.
The whole time, I thought about how ridiculous it was that this one person, the asylum officer, had the power to change the lives of asylum applicants. This officer has the ability to go to work everyday without fearing for their lives. They can go home to their families at the end of the day without the thought that someone may try to attack them because of their race or political opinion. They get to live their lives in an overall safe and secure country. Yet these officers have the audacity to look into the eyes of those suffering and decide that their pain isn't enough to warrant refuge in the United States.
I'm not trying to demonize the asylum officers even though it sounds like I am. They are doing the job that they have to do. It is the system in its entirety that is to blame for the gross injustice experienced by those looking for help. Unfortunately, this won't change. Despite the change in the administration, the system is still designed so that real justice is not achievable. So, we will do the best that we can for our clients in the hope that their asylum officer or immigration judge is in a good mood that day. We can't give our clients any definitive answers or assurances because the system is constantly working against us and against them.