Immigration judges in Utah and across the country made a record number of decisions on asylum cases last year. About 70% of those 67,406 decisions were denials, according to data released last week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a think tank at Syracuse University.
These trends were also seen in Utah’s immigration court. Last year, Utah’s three immigration judges made 874 decisions on asylum cases, up from 552 decisions in 2018. That’s nearly five times more than 2017, when Utah immigration judges decided on 183 cases.
The total number of asylum applications has been steadily growing since 2008, according to data by the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review.
But only about 100 asylum seekers were granted asylum in Utah’s immigration court in both 2018 and 2019.
Skyler Anderson, an immigration lawyer in Taylorsville, said he’s not surprised by these trends.
“The administration is changing the law in ways that those who previously qualified might not anymore,” he said.
Last July, for example, Attorney General William Barr ruled that immigrants who fear persecution because of threats against their family members would no longer qualify. Before this, Anderson said this had been a regular path to asylum.
“We are seeing a very clear effort to minimize the number of people that are allowed to be given asylum in the United States and I have no doubt that people are being denied asylum and then dying in their native countries,” Anderson said.
The Trump administration has also implemented a controversial policy — the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain In Mexico.” It gave the Department of Justice the authority to return asylum seekers who arrive at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border and those who were apprehended along the border back to Mexico. Asylum seekers are expected to wait there for the duration of their immigration proceedings. Previously, asylum seekers were allowed to wait in the U.S. while their cases were in immigration court.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that undocumented immigrants don’t show up for their court hearings, and the Department of Justice said MPP will help end the exploitation of U.S. immigration laws. But according to TRAC, 99 out of 100 asylum seekers in 2019 who were not in custody attended all their court hearings.
Rocio Hernandez covers education and immigration for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @rociohzz
Correction 1/15/2020 11:07 a.m. MT: A previous version of this story misstated which department houses the Executive Office for Immigration Review. It is house in the Department of Justice.