By Ally Bolour, Law Offices of Ally Bolour, APC
Before 2013, asylum applicants were able to obtain a decision on their petitions typically within 4 months. In most jurisdictions those same applicants will now have to wait for at least 4 years just for an interview. If USCIS refers their cases to immigration court, their wait time is likely to extend for an additional 2-3 years. In the Los Angeles asylum office alone – there may be as many as 30,000 cases in the backlog. Nationally – close to 100,000 cases may be awaiting USCIS adjudications.
Once USCIS grants asylum status – If the immediate family of the asylee is overseas, he/she may file a petition so that the family may follow and join him/her in the U.S. Currently this process may take up to 6 months. In theory then, it may take up to 8 years or so for a separated family to be reunified. For gay applicants the situation is even worse.
Most countries in the world do not have marriage equality. In many of these countries, homosexuality is still a crime, often punishable by imprisonment or even death. Persecution of LGBT communities is the norm in many countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa. At the same time, obtaining a U.S. visa from these countries is often a monumental if not an impossible task. So if one partner in a gay family is lucky enough to get a visa to the U.S. and then seek U.S. protection through filing of an asylum application, his/her other half has a longer wait than the estimated 8 years discussed above for a heterosexual couple.
Since most LGBT partners worldwide are not married, they are not considered a family under the INA and thus, immigration benefits are not available to them. A gay asylee then would have to wait a year to apply for residency and then another 4 to qualify for U.S. citizenship. Add on the processing times of roughly 12 months for both processes and you will have a total of 6 years in addition to the 8 discussed above before the family may be back together again. This is only if we assume that during this time, the couple manages to get married in a jurisdiction which recognizes marriage equality.
During these 14+ years, the family member(s) left behind will most probably be living under very harsh conditions, in hostile countries with little or no due process. Their safety and well being is far from guaranteed!
There are two possible solutions to this crisis. DHS may either provide additional funding for the hiring of asylum officers so the backlog is eliminated OR it may ease the requirements to obtain humanitarian paroles for LGBT families. Anything short of this approach contradicts our cherished American values and is simply inhumane.