The American Civil Liberties Union in Maine (ACLU) Friday filed suit against the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the US District Court for the District of Maine, alleging that USCIS failed to provide detailed information on unusual numbers of denials for asylum cases for certain African countries at the Boston asylum office.
The December 17 filing alleged that the USCIS failed to respond adequately to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2020 which sought further information on the policies and procedures governing asylum applications in the Boston and Newark Asylum Offices. The filing further maintained that reports from asylum attorneys began to emerge in 2019 that the Boston Asylum Office had a low rate of asylum approvals for individuals from Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.
While the USCIS responded to the 2020 FOIA filing, the ACLU filed the December 17 suit due to delays and failure to conduct a “properly diligent search” of its denial records. Furthermore, the ACLU argues that such records should be made public online even without a FOIA request. Without such records being made public, the ACLU argues there could be a “risk of circumvention of law enforcement” or otherwise improper application of asylum law.
The records that have so far been provided still have crucial information redacted, while the USCIS has declined to search for additional records on the theory that to do so is burdensome. With the December 17 filing, the ACLU is requesting summary judgment for the Court to compel the USCIS’ full compliance with its earlier FOIA request.
The statutory purpose of US asylum law is to provide residency to individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries and who have a credible fear of returning. However, criticisms have emerged that legitimate asylum-seekers have had their applications denied. The Trump Administration lowered the annual limit on refugees to the lowest levels since the US asylum program was implemented in 1980.