In November 2020, ACLU of Maine filed a lawsuit against the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for its violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Our FOIA request and the ongoing lawsuit allowed us to obtain important information concerning immigration policies and procedures at the USCIS Newark Asylum Office and Boston Asylum Office.
The Boston Asylum Office is at the center of immigration in New England, processing claims for refugees in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Approval rates for asylum applications have dropped as low as 8% at the Boston Asylum Office—compared to the national average of 30%. USCIS has neither explained nor addressed the low approval rate. Documents received in response to our FOIA request showed that the Boston Asylum Office is dramatically less likely to grant asylum to refugees from Central Africa than to refugees from other countries. The documents also demonstrate that asylum officers in Boston inappropriately focus on minor inconsistencies to justify denying asylum. Obtaining documents helps us ensure that these asylum offices are complying with U.S. domestic law and treaty obligations on the protections of refugees.
In March 2022, we released the report “Lives in Limbo: How the Boston Asylum Office Fails Asylum Seekers,” alongside University of Maine School of Law’s Refugee and Human Rights Clinic (RHRC), Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP), and Dr. Basileus Zeno, Assistant Professor of Politics at York University. . The report details how the asylum process at the Boston Asylum Office is founded on a culture of distrust and control. The report prompted Massachusetts Senator Warren and Maine Congressional Representative Pingree to call for a formal investigation of the Boston Asylum Office.
In May and June 2022, the federal court rejected the government’s attempts to withhold public information about the Boston Asylum Office and requires USCIS to produce more unredacted documents on internal procedures. The government produced over 6,000 pages of documents about the Boston Asylum Office’s internal processes.