August 28, 2019

Warren, Markey, Pressley Seek Answers from USCIS on Suspension of Asylum Interviews in Boston Office

Asylum Officers in Boston, Newark Offices Reassigned to Southern Border Cases

Decision Essentially Freezes Over 40,000 Pending Asylum Cases in New England

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Boston, MA - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), along with Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), expressing their strong opposition to the agency's decision to indefinitely suspend new asylum interviews in the Boston Asylum Sub-Office and re-assign staff to the southern border. The decision essentially freezes 40,000 pending asylum cases in New England.

On August 15, 2019, USCIS reportedly told attorneys via e-mail that, effective August 19, 2019, a "majority of interviewing officers" in the Boston Asylum Sub-Office and Newark Asylum Office will be re-assigned to work on asylum cases at the southern border. The notice stated that that an "increasing number" of officers will be traveling to the southern border to conduct credible fear and reasonable fear interviews in-person or telephonically, and, as a result, "no new interviews" will be scheduled in the Boston office and only "a small number" will be scheduled in the Newark office. These two offices are the only USCIS offices that conduct asylum interviews for New England residents.

"We remain gravely concerned with the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the southern border and continue to call on the Trump Administration to take urgently needed steps to address that crisis," the lawmakers wrote. "We worry, however, that the decision to gut USCIS's New England asylum offices will fail to address the humanitarian border crisis and will exacerbate the already-strained backlog of asylum cases in our communities."

In their letter, Senators Warren and Markey, and Representative Pressley, discussed the impact of USCIS' decision on the region and listed a series of steps the Trump Administration that has taken that have inflamed the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, including:

  • expanding detention camps for migrants and separating thousands of children from their parents;
  • slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in critical aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras;
  • severely restricting the types of claims for which migrants can seek asylum;
  • instituting a Remain in Mexico policy that places migrants in harm's way; and
  • ending the case-management program that assisted migrants in appearing for their court dates and navigating the complicated immigration process.

The lawmakers called on the Trump Administration to reverse these policies and asked USCIS to answer a series of questions to better understand the full impact of its latest decision. The lawmakers asked the agency to respond to their inquiry by September 10, 2019.

"A legitimate effort to solve the humanitarian crisis at the southern border must start with reversing each of these actions and the many other decisions that inflame the root causes of the crisis and inflict further harm on children and families fleeing violence, persecution, and poverty," the lawmakers continued. "The decision to forestall new asylum interviews in the Boston Asylum Sub-Office and Newark Asylum Office will not achieve these goals... [and appears to be another cruel and unnecessary action by the Trump Administration to hurt immigrants."

Last week, Senator Warren released a statement sharply condemning the Trump Administration's decision.