A recent study of the approval rates for asylum claims by unaccompanied minors found a wide divergence in rates of approvals. The study reported by the Associated Press on June 2 found a discrepancy in approval rates depending on jurisdiction with offices in San Francisco having an approval rate of 86 percent while the rate in Chicago was 15 percent.
This variation in approval rates points to the subjective nature of asylum claims. The article points out that the asylum officers who make the decisions are in part influenced by federal court rulings that have been more “liberal” in the 9th Circuit that covers San Francisco, but the major factor may be a program in California to fund lawyers for the young asylum applicants. Data show that approval rates for asylum applicants who have legal representation are much higher than for those without representation.
What the article does not discuss is the legal basis for the asylum approvals. The legal standard is that the person has suffered persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution if deported based on the person’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. It is unclear how these criteria would lead to an approved asylum claim for these youth from Central America, because the existence of a high level of violence – which is often cited as a reason for fleeing the region – is not a basis for granting asylum. These claims are not justified on the basis of the claimant’s race or religion, or nationality, or political opinion, and it is difficult to imagine what the catch-all of “particular social group” could be.
It should be noted that when a favorable asylum decision is made by an asylum officer that is the end of the process: asylum granted. But, if the ruling is unfavorable, that decision is subject to appeal to an immigration judge, and many of those appeals result in asylum being granted. So, instead of the overall approval rate of 37 percent for the cases in the study, the final rate of approvals will be higher. This rate of approval of gaining access to a ‘green card’ and permanent legal residence is enough to encourage the continuing flood of illegal entry by young Central Americans. Besides, the administration’s record in deporting those Central American youth who have been ruled ineligible for asylum is so anemic that the risk of deportation is virtually negligible.