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A Sober Assessment of the Growing U.S. Asylum Backlog: TRAC

December 22, 2022 (3 min read)

TRAC, Dec. 22, 2022

"The latest available data reveal that the number of asylum seekers waiting for asylum hearings in the U.S. has now reached at least 1,565,966 individuals. About half of this total are waiting for hearings before judges in the Immigration Courts housed in the Department of Justice. The other half of asylum seekers are waiting for hearings before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers who are housed in the Department of Homeland Security.

These asylum applications—nearly 1.6 million—represent the largest total number of pending asylum applications on record. Asylum backlogs are not new, since the number of people requesting the type of protection that asylum provides has typically exceeded the capacity of government agencies to process applications quickly and fairly.

This report provides a detailed portrait of the asylum backlog before the Immigration Courts, and how the number and their characteristics have changed over the last decade. At the end of FY 2012, there were 100,000 asylum cases pending in the Court’s backlog. A decade later at the end of FY 2022, the backlog had grown over 7-fold to over 750,000 cases. Since then, in just the first two months of FY 2023 (October-November 2022), the asylum backlog jumped by over 30,000 new cases and now totals 787,882.

Asylum seekers speak 418 different languages and are from 219 different countries, plus those who are stateless or from countries that no longer exist. There is a fairly even split between male and female asylum seekers. About 3 out of 10 are children under 18 years of age.

ICE now detains only a small portion—around 2,000—of asylum seekers pending before the Immigration Court. A growing number are being electronically monitored through DHS’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program. If all individuals in the current asylum backlog were required to be detained, the U.S. would need detention levels more than 54 times greater than the 29,000 immigrants currently being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Nearly six out of every ten in the Court’s asylum backlog come from just five countries. Guatemala has the largest number. Driving the asylum backlog have been the increasing numbers from Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil. The shifting composition of nationalities reflects not just the volume of individuals arriving at our borders seeking asylum, but the country’s policies and practices of which nationalities are being allowed to actually enter the U.S. and seek asylum. Asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico have been usually immediately turned away under Title 42 and not allowed to enter and seek asylum.

The location of asylum backlogs has been undergoing change as the location of new asylum filings has shifted. Florida has seen explosive growth. So has Massachusetts. California and Virginia have experienced declines.

Estimating average wait times in this growing backlog poses serious challenges. Where the majority of cases do not even have their asylum hearing scheduled, clearly the resulting estimate is a mere “guesstimate” at best. This guesstimate of average wait times nationally is currently 1,572 days, or 4.3 years. Currently the Immigration Court based in Omaha, Nebraska has the longest wait time averaging 2,168 days.

To read the full report with extensive detailed tables and figures go to:

Or delve deeper by using TRAC’s free asylum backlog web query tool at:

To examine a variety of Immigration Court data, including asylum data, the backlog, new filings, and more now updated through November 2022, use TRAC's Immigration Court tools here: 

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