Asylum and “credible fear”

There is a 1.6 million backlog in asylum applications facing the country’s immigration courts, some 75% of all cases pending in these courts.

Asylees are accepted into the U.S. due to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In recent years, the percentage of court decisions in favor of the applicant has varied betweemn 25% and 40%.

To qualify for asylum, an individual must demonstrate that their fear of persecution is both subjectively genuine and objectively reasonable. This means that they must have a credible fear of persecution, and that there must be a reasonable possibility that they would face harm if they were to return to their home country. The asylum provisions begin here (section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

Credible fear assessments are initially made by an asylum officer employed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an arm of the State Department.  An applicant can appeal an adverse decision to the immigration court (within the Dept of Justice). If a positive decision by the asylum officer, the case goes to an immigration judge for other questions before the judge grants asylum status.

To document the basis for credible fear, applicants typically present evidence such as:

Personal testimony: The applicant may provide a detailed account of their experiences in their home country, including any incidents of persecution, threats, or violence they have suffered or witnessed.

Country conditions reports: These reports provide information on the political, social, and economic situation in the applicant’s home country. They may include information on human rights abuses, persecution, and violence, and can help establish the credibility of the applicant’s claims.

Expert testimony: Experts in relevant fields, such as human rights or country conditions, may provide testimony to support the applicant’s claims.

Documentary evidence: This may include news articles, government reports, or other documents that support the applicant’s claims.

Medical evidence: Applicants may provide medical reports or evaluations to document any physical or mental health conditions resulting from past persecution or trauma.


Where immigrants cannot obtain federal public benefits

This is a seemingly simple question to ask which quickly becomes a morass.

Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), “qualified” non-citizens are generally barred from receiving certain federal public benefits for a period of five years from the date they become eligible for the benefits.  Qualified persons include recent green card holders — the great majority of new non-temporary new arrivals,  The benefits that are subject to this five-year ban include:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Medicaid (with some exceptions); Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Food Stamps (SNAP); and certain housing programs, including Section 8 housing vouchers and public housing

There are exceptions to this five-year ban. Refugees, asylees, and other humanitarian immigrants are generally exempt from the ban and may be eligible for these benefits immediately upon entry into the United States. Additionally, some benefits, such as emergency Medicaid and disaster relief, are not subject to the five-year ban. Finally, some states have opted to provide certain benefits to non-citizens regardless of their immigration status or the length of time they have been in the country.

And, federally supported community health centers routinely provide medical care to all comers no questions asked about legal status, time in country, etc.

The federal government has a website which provides a user friendly way to find what federal and state public benefits are legally available, based on about 20 questions asked. Unfortunately the website in Kafka-esque style asks the user if there are eligible for some dozen truly valuable benefits – it doesn’t tell the user.

See a recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies which decries the expansion by the Biden administration of federal public benefits to certain classes of foreign-born persons legally in the U.S.

Surge in demand for workers in advanced countries

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Government actions to attract foreign nationals for skilled and unskilled jobs have spread from Germany to Japan and include countries with longtime immigration restrictions and some with a populist antipathy to streams of foreign workers.

The U.S. remains an outlier. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have arrived through back channels, but the country isn’t openly welcoming more legal workers, despite the tight labor market.

Around five million more people moved to affluent countries last year than left them, up 80% from pre-pandemic levels, according to a Wall Street Journal data analysis. [This amounts to about a 0.5% increase on the workforce.  In the U.S. the workforce adds about 0.3% due to immigration. In Canada, the annual increase is about 1%.]

The Journal examined 10 countries that received most of the migration, including the U.S., Germany, the U.K., Canada, Australia and Spain. Migration experts say it is the highest number ever reported. That total includes about two million refugees from Ukraine. Even excluding that surge, net migration was significantly higher than 2019 levels, according to the data.

In Europe and North America, the working-age population is expected to decline from 730 million to 680 million over the next two decades, according to United Nations estimates. Such places as South Korea and Taiwan stand to lose more than half their workforce over the coming decades. The working-age population in sub-Saharan Africa, meanwhile, will increase by 700 million by 2050, according to U.N. projections; in Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.N. estimated an increase of 40 million by midcentury.

An example:

Paul Papalia, a government minister in Western Australia, said the region desperately needs workers in both public and private sectors to serve the mining industry, which is booming from global demand for battery-powered vehicles that rely on locally mined lithium, cobalt and nickel. Mr. Papalia led a delegation in March to pubs and other spots in the U.K. to try to lure as many as 30,000 British workers with the prospect of better salaries and sunny weather. Nearly 70,000 job seekers expressed interest so far, including 1,100 applications to join the police force, he said.

The stalemate in immigration reform and the underlying cause

Karoun Demirjian of the NY Times provides a short history of attempts by Congress to pass an immigration bill in the past 25 years: 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, and 2018. I put these failures into a context of increasing polarization of the immigration issue between parties — especially the shift of the Republican party from being fairly friendly to immigration to being opposed.

Until the late 2000s, there was very rough similarity among Republicans and Democrats on their immigration views. (Go here.) Both parties were interally diverse in views. Since then, the Republicans became increasingly restrictionist, if not blatantly anti-immigration, while the Democrats become more uniformly inclusivist.

1960s through mid 1990s – bipartisan

Over generations, popular sentiment has been vaguely inclined to not to increase immigration, but also not to cut it back. Party lines were not clearly drawn because both parties were internally conflicted.

A 1965 Gallup survey showed that….Republicans and Democrats were divided internally, with similar shares of respondents in both parties favoring a decrease. In 1977, a survey continued to show that partisan differences were negligible. In 1986, as the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was passing with a bipartisan congressional majority, a CBS News/New York Times poll recorded no statistically significant partisan differences in opinion toward overall immigration levels.

2000s: tension while bipartisan reform fails

The 9/11 attack sharply heightened concerns about illegal immigration. After a while, Rep concern about mass immigration stayed high but most Dems and, by even more, Independents stopped expressing concern.

President George W. Bush expressed support for immigration reform. In his 2007 State of the Union address, he said, “We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals.”

In 2007, there was a concerted bipartisan effort in the Senate to pass comprehensive legislation, such as The Strive Act, proposed by Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Reps have conflated the issue of immigration with the issue of law and order. Pew Research polls suggest that Reps and Dem come down very differently on the unfairness question. The 2016 Republican Convention platform’s section on immigration demands that legal immigration be cut back, “in light of the alarming levels of unemployment and underemployment in this country.”

2010s: increasing split along party lines

According to Pew Research polling in 2015, about half of Republicans (53%) say immigrants coming to the U.S. make society worse in the long run, compared with just 24% of Democrats. Among Republicans, 71% say immigrants in the U.S. are making crime worse, compared with just 34% of Democrats. 71% of Republicans say immigrants are making the economy worse, compared with 34% of Democrats who say the same.

2018: full blown restrictionist proposal

On January 10, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and other Republicans introduced the Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760). The bill would give Dreamers a three year visa with no right to permanent stay or citizenship, restrict family reunification to spouses and minor children (thus removing adult children and parents), shift the visa lottery to economic visas, and boost border security.

According to The Hill, “Addressing these four issues — border security, the visa lottery, chain migration, and then something for DACA recipients — is a great first step,” Goodlatte told reporters as he returned to the Capitol. “I think there are a lot of other things that need to be done on immigration.”


Expedited removal

There are basically two ways to reduce the number of asylum applicants in the U.S: speed up official decision making, and reduce the number of persons who can stay around and apply for asylum. One measure for the second option is expedited removal. Trump greatly expanded use of this provision, and Biden did further, in part by adding power to personnel at the border that further cut off access to the courts.

The expedited removal of persons just entering the U.S. and within 100 miles of the border authority, created in 1996, was expanded in application by Trump in 2019 and by Biden several times. It is at the core of efforts to cut off the flow of asylum cases going to immigration courts. Go here for an description of the provision, which in its original language was quite expansive but relatively underused until Trump.

In 2017, one quarter of persons apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol, or about 100,000 were returned (basically to Mexico) by expedited removal.  Given there were about 1.5 apprehensions in FY 2022 (unduplicated count), hundreds of thousands might have been ejected that way.

In July, 2021, the Biden administration sought to expand “expedited removal” processing at the Mexican border. This rule was implemented in May, 2022

In March 2022, the administration proposed a rule (which was stalled due to legal challenges) to assign asylum cases directly to asylum officers, employed by USCIS within the State Department,  to make full decisions on applicants, and to make other removal decisions previously assigned only to immigration courts, within Homeland Security.


What if the 2013 immigration reform bill had passed

What shape would our economy be in had S.774 been enacted in 2013? It was passed by the Senate but killed by then House Speaker John Boehner to prevent it being brought to the floor and thereby fracture the Republican delegation. This was the most recent fully developed immigration reform package and the last one passed by at least one legislative chamber.

If the bill had passed, we would have a population of 345 million vs actual of 335 million. Our Gross Domestic Product would be $23.5T vs. actual of $22.7T.  Our workforce would be at least 5 million persons larger.

Congressional Budget Office forecast in 2013:

Real GDP would be greater by 3.3% in 2023 and by 5.4% in 2033 if the bill was enacted, according to CBO central estimates of the overall economic impact. Under the full range [of alternative provisions in the bill] the bill could boost GDP buy between 5.1% and 5.7% in 2033. Because the population would expand by 3% due to the bill, GNP per capita would rise by much less than the total GNP. According to our estimates, the bill would reduce per capita GNP by 0.7% in 2023 and increase by 0.2% in 2033. [Under the full range of estimates] the bill would lower per capita GNP in 2033 by as much is 0.2% or raise it by as much is .6%.

American Action Forum, March 2023:

Among the projected impacts of S. 744 were more rapid economic growth, increased employment, and reduced federal deficits; if S. 744 were to be enacted as law in 2023, over the next 10 years [2023 – 2033] gross domestic product would be cumulatively $2.9 trillion higher, employment would be 26 million greater, and budget deficits would be reduced by nearly $300 billion. If S. 744 were enacted along with pro-investment incentives, real wages would rise for all workers, in contrast to the mixed impacts projected for S. 744 alone.


Who are the workers without a high school degree?

The percentage of adults in the U.S. without a high school degree has declined by about 67% since 2020 — from 1990 to 2019 an absolute decline in persons 25 years or older by 18 million persons even while the total 25 year of older population grew by 67 million (147 to 209).

The majority of persons working in the U.S. today without a high school degree are foreign born, even though the foreign born make up only 14% of the total population. This dramatically shows how this cohort of workers is concentrated among immigrants.

In 2020, the labor force participation rate of foreign born vs U.S. born of persons 25 or older is higher  among foreign born for all levels of formal education, and sharply so for those without a high school degree and with a high school degree. (Go here.)

Without a high school degree, the participation rate for foreign born is 56% (5 million persons working ) vs 35% for U.S. born (4 million persons working).

In 1990, there were 42 million persons 25 years-plus who did not have a high school degree in the U.S., or 30% of the total population 25 years-plus. By 2000, this number had dropped to 31 million, and by 2010, it had declined further to 24 million. The most recent data available from NCES is from 2019, which shows that there were 20 million persons 25 years-plus who did not have a high school degree in the U.S, or 10%.

These foreign-born workers without a high school degree are concentrated in construction such as painters, drywall installers, and construction laborers; food service and hospitality; agriculture, including picking crops and performing other farm labor; cleaning and maintenance such as janitors, house cleaners, and building cleaners; an labor-intensive manufacturing industries such as textiles, furniture, and plastics. I think that the majority of these workers are unauthorized, and many with limited English proficiency, both of which keep them out of many jobs.

How much would higher recent immigrant alleviate the labor shortage today

About 80% of recent immigrants, possibly higher, are in the typical ages of the workforce (16 to 65).  This is higher than the population as a whole, about 70%. There has been a shortfall of about two million new immigrants 2019 – 2022. This suggests a shortfall of about 1.6 million working age persons. Let’s assume that 80% of these would be in employed, or about 1.3 million (the others in school, at home or otherwise not employed).

As if February 2023, there were 10 million job openings, and five million persons unemployed in the workforce – a ratio of 2, compared with a more normal ratio of 1 or lower. Had these 1.3 million recent immigrants been employed, the job openings would have been about nine million and the ratio between openings and unemployment would be about 1.75.


This, of course, assumes that the influx of working immigrants would reasonably match job openings in the short run.

Latinos a “demographic lifeline to rural America”

The Hispanic population increased from 1.6 million in 1992 to 4.1 million in 2019, an increase of 160%, in nonmetro America. The rapid growth of the nonmetro Latino population was 56% in the 1990s, 40% in the 2000, and 19% in the 2010s. The total non-metropolitan population   growth was far less:  5.4%, 5.5%, and 0.7% respectively. Between 1990 and 2019, 58% of net non-metropolitan area population growth was Hispanic; 3% Black; 7% white; and 32% non-Hispanic other (Asians, Native, multi-racial).

New, i.e. non-traditional, destinations of Hispanics include northeast Texas, the Carolinas, southeastern Pennsylvania, the Las Vegas area, and northwest Georgia.  When you look at these “new destinations,” the increases much more.  For new destinations, Hispanics were 3% of the population in 1990 and 16% in 2019. (In established destinations, such as southern and western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, the share of total population increased relatively modestly from 32% to 44%.

Within 200 non-metro counties, the total population would have declined except for Hispanic in-migration.

This population shift has led to some non-historical Hispanic states, such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Nevada, gaining a significant share of eligible voters being Hispanic. (go here,)

From here.


SNAFUs in Humanitarian Parole for Afghans

Here is a damning portrait of incompetence in the USCIS regarding help to Afghans fleeing to the U.S.  This posting, quoting the report, dives into more detail of immigration operations than usual. The author is the American Immigration Council. Title: “Agency Failures Make Obtaining Humanitarian Parole Almost Impossible for Afghans.”


USCIS records show how the agency’s response to the high volume of humanitarian parole applications contributed to the massive delays faced by Afghans.

In July 2021, the Biden administration announced that the United States’ military mission in Afghanistan would conclude in August of that year. During those final days of U.S. military presence, the Taliban rapidly gained control of Afghanistan, killing civilians in their path and prompting many Afghans to flee their homes for safety. As the U.S. military departed the country, many Afghans who were left behind in danger—as well as their families and friends in the United States—turned to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) humanitarian parole process for safe passage. For Afghan nationals who managed to reach U.S. ports of entry during this period, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) allowed them to enter by granting them parole at ports of entry, known as port parole. Thousands of others who could not reach the United States at that time were forced to apply for humanitarian parole through the traditional way of submitting an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

However, Afghan nationals began to see massive delays in the adjudication of their humanitarian parole applications. Government statistics show that from January 1, 2020 to April 6, 2022, USCIS—the agency in charge of adjudicating humanitarian parole applications—received 44,785 applications where the applicant’s country of citizenship was Afghanistan, and only approved 114 of those applications, or less than 0.3%. This bottleneck of applications essentially foreclosed this benefit as a potential option for those Afghans who could not reach the United States, many of whom remained in Afghanistan.

Government statistics covering a slightly different time period tell the same story. From January 1, 2020, to April 6, 2022, USCIS received 44,785 applications where the applicant’s country of citizenship was Afghanistan, and only approved 114 of those applications.

Notably, government figures show that between March 1, 2021, and March 22, 2022, USCIS received over $19 million from humanitarian parole applications filed on behalf of Afghan nationals.

These figures show that it was extremely difficult for Afghan applicants who directly requested humanitarian parole through the I-131 process to have their cases adjudicated even though the agency collected extensive fees from these applications. Applicants’ best chances for being approved for humanitarian parole were when a U.S. agency requested the parole, an avenue that was available to only a handful of Afghans.

The developments in the humanitarian parole process revealed through government records highlight the insurmountable odds faced by Afghan nationals trying to reach the United States. It is evident from the available documents that USCIS was not prepared to adjudicate the high volume of humanitarian parole applications from Afghans who did not make it on those early flights to the United States. The shifts in adjudication protocols with no notice to the public, including USCIS’ de-prioritization of processing applications from individuals who remained in Afghanistan and the temporary hold placed on adjudications in light of the high volume of applications received, undoubtedly contributed to the delays in adjudications. These circumstances, and not just the volume of applications, are the reason why humanitarian parole has failed to provide a feasible avenue for relief to vulnerable Afghans who have not been able to reach the United States.