When Dana Leigh Marks joined the immigration court in San Francisco in 1987, there were about 800 cases before every judge. By the time she retired in 2021, each judge had a caseload of about 4,000. Today, that number is about 5,000.
“It’s going to take years to unwind the backlogs unless something really dramatic is done,” Ms. Marks said, adding that making more work visas available would slash the number of asylum petitions clogging dockets.
If a decision is not rendered in 150 days, virtually impossible today, asylum applicants automatically become eligible for an employment authorization card.
Applicants from countries mired in political upheaval or run by military dictators, such as Eritrea or Myanmar, are likely to be granted asylum. But claims from many other countries are far less likely to be granted. Last year, only 4 percent of Mexican cases, 7 percent of Honduran and 29 percent of Venezuelan were granted.
Until a few years ago, Katy Chavez, an immigration lawyer in North Carolina, used to receive a handful of calls a year from people seeking her services to apply for asylum. Now she receives a couple dozen a month. Many are migrants who had fled profound economic hardships.
“They are calling because they want their work permit,” she said. “They don’t even understand what asylum is.”