By Fisayo Okare | October 27, 2023
Draconian and toxic work conditions have led asylum officers to reject legally sound asylum claims, found a report by the Safe Harbor Clinic at Brooklyn Law, after an investigation.
The findings are based on the experiences of 11 former asylum seekers, one former immigration judge, 22 immigration attorneys, and 7 asylum seekers.
At 1065 Stewart Avenue, Suite 200 — the New York Asylum Office — upper management pressures asylum officers to focus on speed as much as possible, even assessing their performance by how quickly they can complete asylum decisions, thereby creating a culture of fear.
“Pressure from leadership results in asylum officers rejecting legally sound asylum claims, simply because granting a case takes more time,” the report noted. “Former New York Asylum Officers claimed that they worked under the constant threat of losing their jobs, or facing other retaliation from upper management, if they could not sustain a pace that they described as unrealistic and punishing.”
Some former New York Asylum Officers interviewed during the investigation said they were miserable at work, citing the guilt of rejecting asylum seekers’ applications with legitimate claims because of the pressure from their bosses.
The New York Asylum Office grants just between 5% and 7% of applicants, referring most other asylum seekers to removal proceedings in immigration court — a three-year span data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as well as Human Rights First, shows.
The data is lower than the 10 other asylum offices nationwide, meaning that the New York Asylum Office often turns away more asylum seekers than other asylum offices in the U.S., including in Texas and Florida.
Asylum officers in New York approve asylum applications at alarmingly low rates because it takes more time to approve an asylum seeker’s case than to deny it and refer the asylum seeker to immigration court, the research found. This is the case even for applicants who truly meet the criteria for legal asylum.
The report also found that security guards at the New York Asylum Office regularly intimidate, berate, and belittle asylum seekers and attorneys.
A former senior official at another asylum office said the New York Asylum Office operates with a mentality of “let’s scare people into telling us the truth, versus let’s make people feel safe so they tell us the truth.” “It’s intentional,” they said.
The dysfunctional cycle at the New York Asylum Office harms asylum seekers and the government directorate overseeing the office has continued to ignore the dysfunction, the report found.
“I have never experienced something so dark…where people gather information from you to manipulate a system against you,” said Helen, a former New York asylum officer, in an interview quoted in the report.
Another former NY asylum officer said: “My enduring resentment about my entire experience at the asylum office is how cynical it made me about the system in its entirety . . . it really just undermined a lot of my faith in the rule of law . . . and in the legitimacy of American institutions.”