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As the world faces the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, the need for effective, timely, and fair processing of asylum claims could not be greater.

But a new report finds the U.S. asylum and immigration court systems are failing refugees.

Chronic underfunding, hiring challenges, and shifting enforcement strategies have left the asylum office and the immigration courts in a state of crisis. More than 620,000 removal and asylum cases are pending, and many asylum seekers are waiting three to six years for resolution of their claims.

Tahirih Justice Center staff witness the harmful impact these dramatic backlogs have on the brave women and girls they serve, which is why they joined forces with Human Rights First to shed light on the crisis.

Attorneys from Tahirih’s Houston office, including several pro bono attorneys from Vinson & Elkins LLP and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, met extensively with the principal author of a new report to convey the disastrous impact of court delays on clients trying to rebuild their lives in the wake of violence. The report, “In the Balance: Backlogs Delay Protection in the U.S. Asylum and Immigration Court Systems,” was released in April.

In addition to providing critical data and insight, Tahirih staff helped arrange for a courageous client to share the effect of the backlog on her life.

“These backlogs have a profoundly negative impact on our clients, who have already suffered unimaginable trauma. This report gives a voice to those who face the injustice of languishing for years in a broken system,” said Anne Chandler, Tahirih Houston’s Director.

The report findings include that:

  • The number of backlogged cases at the Asylum Division has more than quadrupled since 2013, to some 144,500 in March 2016.
  • Average wait times for initial affirmative asylum interviews exceed two years. An asylum seeker who files an affirmative asylum application today could wait more than six years.
  • Without additional judges the backlog in the immigration courts will top 500,000 by the end of FY 2016 and reach 1 million in FY 2022.
  • Family separation leaves children and spouses in danger and strains family relationships.
  • Delays harm asylum seekers’ mental health.

“I feel like waiting for this long ruined my life. I feel like I ran from the rain and fell into the sea,” said Marcel, a political activist and survivor of torture, who has waited for three years for an asylum interview and struggles to maintain hope.

Armed with the information provided by Tahirih’s client and dedicated attorneys, the report proposes solutions for eliminating the backlogs in both systems and steps for increasing efficiency.

Learn more about how Tahirih Justice Center is responding to this crisis through direct legal services for survivors and policy advocacy in the halls of Congress and the White House: