‘It would only get worse,’ immigration attorney fears asylum backlog will grow

Hundreds of migrants have made their way to Denver over the last week. On Tuesday, close to 400 arrived and another 286 people arrived on Wednesday.
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 4:38 PM MDT
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DENVER — The lines at the U.S. southern border are long. Thousands of people are fleeing their home countries and are gathered at the border, hoping to gain asylum in the U.S. once Title 42 ends on Thursday night.

Hundreds of migrants have made their way to Denver over the last week. On Tuesday, there were close to 400 people and another 286 arrived on Wednesday.

Many of the migrants coming are seeking asylum from their home countries but it may not be easy.

“This is something that is just historical,” said Denver-based immigration attorney Margaret Choi. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Denver-based immigration attorney Margaret Choi.
Denver-based immigration attorney Margaret Choi.(Jaleesa Irizarry)

The Department of Homeland Security expects 10,000 migrants per day will try to cross into the U.S. seeking asylum. Choi told 9NEWS it may be a while until they get it.

“I just don’t know how the asylum office is going to hold up, I don’t know if the whole system is gonna collapse.” Choi added. “I do hope there’s some way we can deal with this, a very very urgent matter.”

There are two different ways to seek asylum.

The affirmative asylum process is for people not in removal proceedings and are coming forward on their own. There’s also defensive asylum, the process a vast majority of individuals coming through the border face. In both cases, getting your claim heard may take a while.

“So I have filed asylum as far as back as 2015 and we still don’t have a date yet,” Choi pointed out. “I have to say it would only get worse before it will get any better, if it will at all.”

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a nonpartisan data gathering group out of Syracuse University, there is an immigration court asylum backlog. The average time someone in the U.S. is waiting for their asylum hearing is about four years. In Colorado specifically, its a little shorter at about 3 years. In the meantime, asylum seekers can work.

Immigration Court Asylum Backlog
Immigration Court Asylum Backlog(Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse)

“Once we file the asylum, they have to wait for a certain period of time. It used to be a year, now its 5 months.150 days then they can apply for a work permit,” Choi explained.

It may be years until these asylum seekers really know if they can stay in the states and as they wait for their case to be heard, fear floods them.

“Everyday is a torture in them because they’re facing uncertainty,” she said.

About a thousand asylum officers are being sent to immigration detention facilities to help screen asylum requests. Choi said when she started practicing 30 years ago, the wait to seek asylum from the border took about a year or so.