A record number of Indian nationals have sought asylum in the U.S. over the past five years, but the vast majority of applications have been denied under both the Obama and Trump administrations.
An India-West analysis of data provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the North American Punjabi Association, which used the Freedom of Information act to request the data, showed that fewer than 15 percent of Indian asylum cases were approved between the years 2014 and 2018. The majority of petitioners experienced long wait times, in excess of three years, before their cases were decided.
A total of 22,371 persons of Indian origin applied for asylum in that time period. Sanjay Panda, India’s consul general for the West Coast, told India-West the data may represent an under-count, as many asylum seekers travel through another country before arriving in the U.S.
Most petitioners overstayed a B1 or B2 tourist visa. But surprisingly, a significant number of Indians arriving on an H-1B or H-4 employment-related visa also filed asylum applications.
Alarmingly, a large number of Indian children under 10 experienced lengthy wait times, despite guidelines which recommend that the asylum petitions of those under 18 should be decided within 60 days. Most young children who received a hearing between 2014 and 2018 were denied asylum, according to the data released by ICE to NAPA.
Asylum is granted to those who have experienced persecution in the home country. The Trump administration in 2017 narrowed eligibility to only those who had been harmed by the government in their home country. Victims of gangs or domestic violence are no longer eligible for asylum, deemed the administration, stating the home country is responsible for protecting its citizens from private actors.
Many Indians claiming asylum in the U.S. have said they have experienced violence at the hands of opposing parties.
Satnam Singh Chahal, Indian American executive director of NAPA, told India-West in an e-mail: “The asylum-seeking process can exacerbate survivors’ suffering and make healing more difficult.”
“In order to develop a strong legal claim, survivors must tell the story of their persecution and suffering over and over: to their lawyer, to an immigration office, and sometimes in court, in response to intrusive and often adversarial questioning by government attorneys and immigration judges,” he said.
Chahal noted that asylum seekers are ineligible for employment until several months after their cases are filed, making it difficult to retain legal counsel.
In 2018, 2,900 Indians applied for asylum. According to India-West’s analysis of ICE data, decisions were quickly made in 1,471 cases, the majority of which were denied. A total of 191 Indians applying in 2018 were granted asylum that year; 1,429 cases remained pending.
A total of 241 children under the age of 10 — including several pre-schoolers — applied for asylum in 2018. The vast majority of those applications were denied, rendering the children immediately deportable.
The vast majority of Indians applying for asylum in 2018 came into the U.S. on a B1 or B2 tourist visa, which they overstayed. About 60 entered the country on a C1 transit visa, while roughly the same number came in on a D1/D2 transit visa, issued to crew members of marine vessels.
A total of 385 Indians that year crossed into the U.S. without presenting themselves at a border checkpoint and obtaining permission to enter the country, known as Entry Without Permission; 275 students overstayed on F1/F2 visas.
Surprisingly, a large number of Indians claimed asylum after initially entering the country on an H-1B, H-4, or L-2 visa. Several Indians granted a J1 cultural exchange visa also claimed asylum that year.
Some 213 Indians possessing U visas — which are granted to people who are victims of crimes — applied for asylum in 2018; almost all those cases remained pending.
The largest spike in Indians applying for asylum was in 2017, coinciding with President Donald Trump’s first year in office. As the president vowed to double-down on undocumented immigration and impose stricter standards on eligibility for legal immigration, 6,158 Indians applied for asylum.
Only 104 Indian asylum cases were heard that year; the majority were rejected. A total of 346 applications filed in 2017 were decided the following year. In all, only 41 Indians who applied in 2017 were granted asylum in those two years; 5,708 applications remained pending, according to ICE data sent to NAPA.
Some 592 children under the age of 10 applied for asylum in 2017: almost all of their cases remained pending as of the end of 2018, the last year for which ICE provided data to NAPA under the FOIA request.
Surprisingly, however, the Obama administration made it no easier for Indian asylum seekers: 5,639 Indians filed for asylum in 2016, but only 95 cases were adjudicated that year. A total of 89 applications were denied or withdrawn: only 6 Indians were granted asylum that year.
Some 187 cases for those who filed in 2016 were heard the following year: of those, only 22 received asylum, with the rest either denied or withdrawn.
Ninety-eight cases of those who filed in 2016 were decided upon in 2018: only 12 were granted asylum.
Some 607 children under the age of 10 — including two children — filed for asylum in 2016, but by the end of 2018, almost none of those cases had been heard. Only two young children were granted asylum in that two-year time period.
For those who filed in 2016, 5,259 cases remained pending in 2019 when ICE released its data to NAPA.
Similarly, in 2015, only 66 cases were decided from the 4,446 Indian applicants who filed that year: 12 were granted asylum, while 54 were denied or withdrew their petitions. Another 93 were decided upon in 2016: 38 received asylum.
A total of 986 Indians who filed asylum claims in 2015 had their cases decided in 2017: 108 were granted asylum. The following year, 784 cases were heard: 98 were granted asylum, about 12 percent.
More than 2,500 Indian asylum seekers who filed in 2015 were still waiting to have their cases determined at the end of 2018.
At total of 562 children under the age of 10 filed asylum claims in 2015: only 26 were granted asylum. The vast majority of children’s cases remained pending two years later.
Some 535 Indian asylum seekers who filed in 2014 were still waiting to have their cases decided four years later. Of the 2,449 Indian applicants who filed in 2014, 406 were granted asylum, about 16 percent. Similar numbers appeared for 2013.
ICE did not release data for 2019 to NAPA. But the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University released a report Jan. 8, stating that a record number of asylum claims — 67,406 — had been decided in 2019, a 250 percent jump over five years ago. The number of immigrants who have been granted asylum more than doubled from 9,684 in 2014 to 19,831 in FY 2019. However, the number of immigrants who have been denied asylum or other relief grew even faster from 9,716 immigrants to 46,735 over the same time period, noted TRAC: more than two-thirds of applicants were denied.
Applicants from India received the third highest number of approvals, 2000, while applicants from China and El Salvador topped the list.
TRAC corroborated lengthy wait times, noting that — overall — asylum applicants waited on average 1,030 days, about three years, for their cases to be decided. Many waited even longer: a quarter of applicants waited 1,421 days, or nearly four years, for their asylum decision.
In related news, more than 3,000 Indian nationals are currently in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, most awaiting a decision on their asylum application, according to information released by the North American Punjabi Association.
Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by NAPA in July 2019, ICE noted that, as of Oct. 19, 2019, 3,017 Indian nationals were in ICE detention centers across the country: 2,933 were males, while 84 were females.
ICE has identified 156 Indian males in detention as convicted criminals, and noted that 86 have pending criminal charges. Six Indian women in ICE custody were deemed convicted criminals, while one had pending criminal charges.