CST: CAIR-Chicago sues Feds Over Delays in Asylum Applications

Courtesy: Felton Davis

Courtesy: Felton Davis

Originally published in the Chicago Sun Times.

The Chicago chapter of the country’s largest Muslim civil rights group is asking a federal court to force immigration agents to rule on asylum applications that have been in the pipeline for years.

Asylum applicants have the right to live and work in the United States while their applications are being processed by U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.

But seven applicants from the Middle East, sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, or CAIR-Chicago, are stuck in limbo. All seven claim to face persecution in their home countries.

In July, CAIR-Chicago filed a complaint against USCIS in the Northern District of Illinois. The complaint calls for the court to set an “immediate deadline” for the agency to rule on the applications. CAIR-Chicago is also seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

Phil Robertson, litigation director for CAIR-Chicago, said the complaint comes after months of trying to work through the government’s normal channels.

“All we’re asking the government to do is to quickly resolve these matters as they’re supposed to,” Robertson said.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for USCIS declined to answer questions about the status of the applications in question.

The seven asylum applicants seeking relief hail from Egypt, Syria and Yemen. They’re all between ages 24 and 48.

One of the applicants, named in the complaint as John Doe #4, lives in Aurora with his wife and four children. He escaped Egypt after his political party was deemed a terrorist organization in 2013, according to CAIR-Chicago.

In March 2017, Doe completed his interview with an asylum officer at USCIS’s field office in Chicago, the final step in the process before the agency determines to grant asylum or not. But Doe hasn’t heard a word from USCIS since then, despite the agency being expected to settle requests “within a reasonable time,” according to federal law.

The same goes for Jane Doe #5, a Roman Orthodox Christian from Jordan who lives in Chicago. According to CAIR-Chicago, Doe was ostracized by her family for marrying a Muslim man and also by her husband’s family for her refusal to convert. She escaped to the United States in 2014 with her son after her husband died. She feared being killed and having her son taken away.

According to the complaint, Jane Doe completed her interview with USCIS in August 2017 and has not received further notice regarding her application.

Robertson said these delays prove costly from asylum applicants.

“There’s a lot of benefits that do not come to someone who is an asylum applicant. They can’t apply for a green card or citizenship. It’s harder getting loans and mortgages or qualifying for student benefits. A lot can be denied to them simply because of their status,” he said.

In fiscal year 2018, the government issued decisions on 42,224 asylum applications. Of those, 65% were denials, up from 42% in 2012, according to data analyzed by researchers at Syracuse University’s Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.