In 2007, 54,957 refugees fleeing from persecution sought asylum in the United States. Less than one-fourth of them were granted asylum.
An interdisciplinary group of professors from the School of Economic, Political and Policy Science at the University of Texas at Dallas has teamed up with the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas to research the asylum process. They hope their findings will help streamline the system to make it both more equitable and more efficient.
To begin the asylum process an applicant must be unwilling or unable to return to his or her country of origin because of a legitimate fear of persecution based on one, or more, of the following grounds:
Ethnicity or linguistic community.
Membership in a particular social group.
Holding unpopular political opinions.
“Asylum applicants have so many obstacles to overcome,” said Dr. Lloyd J. Dumas, who is principal investigator. “Often they flee their homelands quickly under duress and do not have all the proper documentation to establish their claim. They also don’t have the financial resources to provide their own lawyer.”
The Human Rights Initiative of North Texas provides free legal services to clients through the agency’s extensive network of volunteer attorneys. The organization has a strong reputation. Since 2000, more than 85 percent of HRI’s asylum cases have been granted, more than twice the national average.
The UT Dallas researchers are using both quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze shortfalls in the asylum process and how HRI has achieved such impressive success. A grant from the Overbrook Foundation is funding this three-year study that will run through the 2008-2009 academic year.
The UT Dallas research team includes six professors from the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, each contributing a different element of expertise to the collaborative research project:
Dr. Bobby Alexander, a sociologist and anthropologist, with expertise in immigration issues.
Dr. Douglas Dow, a political scientist specializing in political theory and theories of justice and the law.
Dr. Jennifer Holmes, a political scientist, working in the areas of American government and international relations.
Dr. Linda Keith, a political scientist with expertise in judicial behavior and global human rights.
Dr. Danielle Lavin-Loucks, a sociologist and criminologist with expertise in conversational analysis and ethno-methodology.
Dr. Lloyd J. Dumas, an economist and public policy analyst with expertise in transition processes.
The team’s preliminary findings show that in spite of random assignment, it seems to matter very much which judge hears an asylum case. Some judges within the same jurisdiction have grant rates nearly four times the rates of other judges.
Gender is also an issue. Male applicants usually fare better than female. Applicants who relocated within their homeland, before arriving in the United States to seek asylum, are more than twice as successful at obtaining asylum as those who did not relocate first.
“We hope to disseminate our findings so that other nonprofits working in this field might gain from what we learn,” said Dumas. “We’d also like to recommend policy changes that will make the asylum process more just and more effective.”