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How often are refugees granted asylum?

People seeking asylum legally enter the United States, but they aren't always granted permanent residence.

SAN ANTONIO — In the last five years, judges have granted just 34 percent of asylum applicants permanent refuge in the United States, according to federal data compiled by Syracuse University. 

Though approval rates have climbed since 2020, most applicants have not been granted asylum this year. 

About 21,000 people secured asylum between October 2021 and August 2022. Nearly 45,000 migrants applied for permanent refuge. 

Republican politicians have leaned on these relatively low approval rates to support claims that migrants are claiming asylum to enjoy an extended stay in the United Sates.  

Migrants are allowed to remain in the United States while their asylum cases are adjudicated, but that process can take years. Asylum applicants do not immediately enjoy the right to work in the United States and must regularly appear before an immigration judge. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, last week told reporters his state will only offer refuge to asylum applicants who have legitimate claims, but that "most of these (claims) are not valid." 

DeSantis insinuated the migrants he flew from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard are gaming the system to remain stateside, even though Venezuelans have secured refuge in 65 percent of cases since 2017. 

Immigration judges are more likely to grant Venezuelan migrants asylum because the United States does not have a diplomatic relationship with the nation, where quality of life is especially poor. 

Still, immigration attorneys say asylum approval rates don't tell the whole story. 

"It's very easy to say, 'Oh, so many people are losing their cases. That must mean they don't have a real, bona fide request,'" Sara Ramey said. "But that's simply not the case."

Ramey says American asylum laws are restrictive. Judges do not have discretion to grant refuge to a migrant who does not meet specific criteria, even if they are in danger. 

A judge may deem a migrant ineligible for asylum, but "it's not because that person is trying to commit fraud by making up some type of story," Ramey said. 

For example, a business owner subjected to extortion in Peru might not qualify for asylum because they could, technically, seek a new job. 

"In a lot of the countries we're talking about, the economies are fairly weak and you're kind of lucky to get the job you get," she said. "People don't feel they have other options."

"The majority of people who come are coming for some type of serious problem," she continued. "In the ten years I've been litigating these cases, very, very rarely have I ever seen a judge" decide a claim was frivolous or fraudulent.

But people on either side of the immigration debate can agree the asylum adjudication process takes too long. 

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, Tuesday called for more immigration judges. Ramey agreed that the current number is "woefully inadequate."

She also said the United States should embrace new technology to speed along the application process. Some paperwork should move online, Ramey added.

"If you save 30 minutes on each case, you're talking about hundreds - if not thousands - of hours over the course of probably one month," she said. "On both sides of the political aisle, there is good reason to make sure (swift) justice is provided." 

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