About the Data on Asylum

Findings are based upon a detailed analysis of the millions of Immigration Court records covering cases where applications for asylum were filed. These individual case records were obtained through requests made by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a unit within the Department of Justice in which these administrative courts are housed.

These courts were established by Congress to conduct deportation proceedings and decide "whether foreign-born individuals, who are charged by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with violating immigration law, should be ordered removed from the United States."

Both affirmative and defensive asylum applications heard by Immigration Judges are included in the data. Most asylum applications today are considered defensive applications and filed in response to the DHS initiating removal proceedings in Immigration Court. An individual may then claim they are entitled to asylum as a defense against removal.

Alternatively, under some circumstances asylum applications can be first submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the Asylum Officer at USCIS turns down asylum, the application is generally referred to the Immigration Court to consider and rule afresh on the asylum claim. This is considered an affirmative application.

Asylum applications granted by USCIS end there and therefore are not covered in these data; only unsuccessful affirmative applicants reach the Immigration Court and are covered in TRAC's data tools. The tools cover these as well as all defensive asylum cases.

Selecting Which TRAC Asylum Tool To Use

TRAC's four asylum tools all start with the same data. The tools differ in their focus and the stage cases have reached:

  • Asylum Filings: New! Here the timeline and case selection focuses on cases based on the date the asylum application was filed. Results do allow tracking the current status of the case, including the outcome, if that has occurred. But the timeline even for outcome is based on application filing date—not on when the outcome occurred. Case counts are tracked.

  • Asylum Decisions: Here the timeline focuses on the date the asylum decision occurred. Again, case counts are tracked, but pending cases are not included. Also only those cases where the Immigration Judge ruled on the merits of the asylum claim by granting or denying the asylum application are covered. Not covered are asylum cases that concluded other ways. For example, additional grounds could allow an asylum seeker to legally stay in the U.S., an application may be abandoned and not ruled upon, the government may fail to prove the individual was deportable, or the judge may use other ways to close the case.

  • Judge-by-Judge Asylum Decisions: While covering the same set of cases as the Asylum Decisions tool, this tool provides a choice from hundreds of text-based reports, each summarizing asylum decisions made by a specific judge.

  • Asylum Backlog: New! Here the focus is those asylum cases that are still pending. Asylum cases comprise a substantial part of the overall Court's increasing backlog of cases[1]. Here the timeline shows the backlog at the end of each fiscal year. For the current fiscal year, the backlog is at the end of the latest month data are available.

The Asylum Backlog tool provides not only (1) pending case counts, but a choice of measures on how long the case had been pending. These additional measures are: (2) the average days wait from the date of the Notice to Appear (NTA) initiating the case until the latest data or (3) the longer average days wait extending to the scheduled next hearing on the pending case[2].

Using the Data Tool: Controlling Table and Graph Displays

TRAC's asylum web-query tools—asylum filing (f), asylum decisions (d), asylum backlog (b)—all work in a similar fashion and display data in three interconnected tables and a time series graph.

Graph: The time series graph displays the timeline on which the selected cases for each tool was based. The graph updates to reflect the subset of cases chosen in the table row category last selected. Mousing over a bar in this graph reveals the data value and date it represents. Either the number of cases or the percent of cases can be displayed by selecting the appropriate radial button. For filings and for decisions, other radial buttons allow the user to switch between displaying fiscal years, or displaying data month-by-month.

Interconnected Tables: Pulldown menus above each of the three tables control which variable or factor is displayed. For the backlog tool, a user must also select which fiscal year's backlog data are displayed. For the filings and decision tool, by default all relevant cases across the years are included. To display cases month-by-month or year-by-year, the user chooses this selection from the pulldown menu above that table.

Selections from the three tables below the graph should be made from left to right and allow the user to "drill" down or filter the data into narrower and narrower sub-categories. If you select a specific row in the left table, only those cases within that selection will display in the table to the immediate right.

The tables and graph are interconnected. Click on a row in the left table to display only cases within that class in the middle table and in the time series graph. Click on a row in the middle table to display only cases within that class in the right table and in the time series graph. Click on a row in the right table to display only cases within that class in the time series graph.

Pulldown Menus Above Each Table control the variable or factor displayed. Most selections are common across all three tools. Where menu selections are specific to a tool, this is indicated by [f,d,b] after the selection's name in the section which follows.

Available Selections in Asylum Table Pulldown Menus

Time Period:

  • Fiscal Year Application Filed [f]. This selection displays cases for the entire fiscal year, or for the current fiscal year through the latest month that data are available. The federal government's fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30.

  • Fiscal Year of Decision [d]. Similar to above, but timeline based on FY of decision.

  • Month and Year Application Filed [f]. Similar but selection displays cases for each month when application was filed.

  • Month and Year of Decision [d]. Similar but selection displays cases for each month when decision was made.

Location:

  • Immigration Court State. The state or territory where the Immigration Court assigned administrative responsibility for the case is located. Note that the actual hearing location may be in a different state, since some courts handle proceedings in more than one state.

  • Immigration Court. There are Immigration Courts located in different parts of the country assigned the administrative responsibility for handling proceedings in their geographic district. Courts are usually referred to by the city or place where they are located—what EOIR refers to as their "base city." Sometimes Courts which handle, for example, only detained or only juveniles have been become administratively separate, although located in the same city. Street addresses for all Courts are found here.

  • Hearing Location. Each Immigration Court usually has more than one geographic location in which judges hold hearings. Sometimes videoconferencing is used so that the individual and judge are not in the same location. Normally a hearing location is administered by a single Immigration Court. Street addresses for hearing locations are found here.

Demographic Characteristics of Asylum Seeker:

  • Nationality. The recorded nationality of the individual.

  • Language. The language recorded as spoken by the individual.

  • Age Group. The individual's age at the time the Notice to Appeal (NTA) initiating Immigration Court proceedings was issued. This is calculated by TRAC based on the date of birth (where this was recorded by EOIR) and the date on the NTA. Birthdate is not always present in EOIR records and was usually missing until fairly recently.

  • Gender. Whether the individual was recorded as a "male" or "female." Gender is not always present in EOIR records and was usually missing until fairly recently.

Additional Case Characteristics:

  • Represented. Whether the individual did ("Represented") or did not ("Not Represented") have an attorney to help present the individual's case.

  • Custody. Whether the individual remained detained, was detained but released from custody, or was never detained since court proceedings began.

  • How Long in U.S. [f]: Number of years the person resided in the U.S. before the Notice to Appear (NTA) was issued. This information is not always recorded.

  • Affirmative/Defensive Application. The affirmative asylum process applies to asylum applications initially filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which are subsequently referred by USCIS to the Immigration Court for decision. The defensive asylum process applies when the initial asylum request is made to an Immigration Judge.

  • Hearing Attendance [f]: This records whether the individual is still waiting for the first hearing, has always been present at hearings, or was not present at the last hearing (absentia decision).

  • Type of Hearing [b]: Whether the next scheduled hearing is a "Master" calendar (somewhat similar to an arraignment in a criminal case where individuals in multiple cases enter their appearance and next steps are determined), or an "Individual" hearing on the merits of the person's claims to remain in the U.S.

  • Absentia [d]. Whether the individual was absent at the hearing in which a decision was reached by the Immigration Judge.

  • Decision [d]. This records whether the asylum application was: (i) granted, (ii) denied, or (iii) denied but another form of permanent or temporary relief from deportation granted.

  • Outcome [f]: This records the decision or closure reason for the entire case, or whether the case is still pending. Outcomes include:

    • Pending. Case remains open and has not been closed.

    • Removal Orders. Immigration Court judge sustains the removal charge(s) against the individual and issues a removal order. The term "removal" is used in a generic sense and includes orders of deportation, exclusion, etc. A removal order bars the individual from returning to the U.S. for a period of years, or in some cases permanently.

    • Voluntary Departure Orders. Immigration Court judge sustains the removal charge(s) and issues an order of voluntary departure. A so-called "voluntary departure" is when the individual is required to leave the country but is not legally barred from returning.

    • Terminated (no grounds for removal). Immigration Court judge finds the removal charge(s) against the individual are not sustained and "terminates" the case. Situations where the alien has established eligibility for naturalization can be grounds for termination.

    • Relief Granted: Immigration Court judge sustains the removal charges but finds provisions in the immigration law entitle the individual to "relief" from removal, allowing them to remain in this country[3].

    • Administrative/Other Closure: Immigration Court judge decides not to deport the individual for other unspecified reasons, or closes the case administratively or because of the failure of the government to prosecute the case. This category formerly included closures in which the individual was given temporary protected status.

    Notes on EOIR Published Statistics and Data Quality

    EOIR Asylum Grant and Denial Rates. Following EOIR's practice of many decades, TRAC includes all asylum grant and denial decisions. In recent years, however, EOIR's practices have changed. First, EOIR now only counts what it refers to as "initial case completions" rather than all asylum case completions. This results in an undercount of actual asylum grant and denial decisions in any given year.

    Second, late in 2018, EOIR started calculating asylum grant and denial rates in an entirely different (and misleading) way. Rather than reporting rates based on those cases where the judge decided the merits of the immigrant's asylum claims, the agency now includes all cases where the asylum application was closed on bases apart from its merits. How particular asylum applications are closed, however, does not necessarily reflect the actual outcome for that case. Given immigration law's complexity, the asylum application may be only one among several relief applications filed by the individual, and numerous other alternative grounds can be considered by the Court which allow the individual to be legally entitled to remain in the U.S. Thus, EOIR's new asylum tabulations present a very misleading picture of whether the asylum seeker was ultimately successful in his or her bid to remain in this country.

    EOIR Data Quality Issues. TRAC has uncovered data quality issues in EOIR's data management practices on the recording of asylum and other applications for relief filed in Court cases. TRAC has reported previously on these problems here. Thousands of EOIR database records on applications for relief have disappeared, and the number continues to grow each month. TRAC receives a monthly data dump from EOIR's master database. This is the database which the agency relies on to manage its workload. When compared case-by-case, record-by-record, with the previous month's data dump TRAC received, we find that records just disappear without explanation. Disappearing records include both relief applications that have been decided as well as those still pending before the Court. This problem is continuing and TRAC now posts on the webpage containing the Asylum Decisions tool, an updated count of the number of asylum applications that have disappeared since we began monitoring this situation. TRAC has repeatedly reached out to the agency but has not received any satisfactory explanation.

    More recently, TRAC in compiling data to track the asylum backlog, uncovered a second issue where EOIR lost track in its database that an asylum application had been filed. This problem was uncovered for over 50,000 pending cases. Here the asylum application was initially recorded, but wasn't properly carried forward and recorded when, for example, a change in venue or transfer to another hearing location had occurred. The pending asylum application simply disappeared. Thankfully, the original record of filing—when one searched back in EOIR's historical database record for that case—was still present. Thus, TRAC was able to correct for these situations even where the Court had lost track of the asylum application.

    EOIR's published statistics for FY 2021, however, fail to include these cases. This may partially account for why although asylum filings continue to greatly exceed asylum case closures, EOIR reports its asylum backlog has inexplicably gone down.

    Additional TRAC Immigration Enforcement Data and Tools

    To access additional data using other TRAC immigration enforcement tools, go to this directory of data tools.

    Footnotes

    [1] Pending asylum cases identify cases based on the actual filing of an asylum application with the Court. Because the filing of a written asylum application usually takes place later—typically months—after the case begins, the Asylum Backlog tool provides an underestimate of actual pending asylum cases at any point in time. The undercount may be substantial given delays in the scheduling of hearings for many cases with the Court's growing backlog.

    [2] For prior year backlogs, the first measure will be the end of that fiscal year while the second extends to the next scheduled hearing then reflected in that year's data.

    [3] Outcomes across all asylum cases filed since FY 2001 can be seen in TRAC's Asylum Filings tool by selecting "Outcome" from a table pulldown menu. The timeline used in this tool is based on the date the asylum application was filed, not when the case was completed. Thus, this tool doesn't allow users to view case outcomes year-by-year. See the Asylum Decisions tool to examine decisions on the merits of asylum claims year-by-year.