BOSTON – The Trump Administration is relocating immigration officers from cities in the northeast, including Boston, to the southern border. This means that asylum seekers in the Boston area will likely see longer wait times for their applications, which can take years to process. While there's been local criticism of this latest action by the Trump administration, one of the first to chime in was Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Merkley has called out President Trump and his administration for reassigning U.S. asylum officers responsible for Boston and Newark, New Jersey to the southwest border.
The Oregon senator’s office obtained a letter from USCIS facility chiefs from Boston and New Jersey on August 15 detailing the move and has since criticized the president and his staff for a decision Merkley believes will leave the northeast border with little staff to process a heavy volume of asylum applications in the northeast.
"I've learned that the Trump administration is suspending virtually all asylum claims processing for regions served by the Newark and Boston offices. There are over 40,000 cases pending in those offices,” Merkley said in a tweet on Wednesday.
According to NBC News, the letter details how the Newark office will now conduct a small amount of interviews for those seeking asylum. The Boston office will not be conducting any new meetings.
The letter goes on to state that officers from the Newark and Boston offices "will continue to travel to the Southwest border, and an increased number of officers will be assigned to interview Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear cases either in-person or telephonically from the home offices."
The Trump Administration has defended their decision by citing an overwhelming increase in asylum seekers at the southwest border.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has since called Merkely’s twitter comments “false accusations.”
"Just learned a Senator is falsely alleging @uscis Boston/Newark stopped processing asylum claims. Completely false! They are shifting *some* staff to help w/ credible fear workload resulting from the historic humanitarian crisis at the border that Congress REFUSES to help fix."
Sen. Merkley’s office isn’t the only ones frustrated by the decision. Immigration attorney Susan Church of Cambridge is concerned with what she believes will inevitably bring a backlog of asylum seekers who could end up waiting anywhere from three to six years for asylum.
"All the time that these asylum officers are away at the border, interviews are not being conducted and that backlog is growing larger and larger and larger," she said.
According to Immigrationforum.org, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires USCIS to schedule initial interviews with those seeking asylum within 45 days after their application has been filed. A decision is then expected within 180 days after the application date.
Immigration attorney and Boston University clinical professor, Sarah Sherman-Stokes, believes the southwest border crisis is actually the Trump’s administration own doing.
“They've created this funnel that brings everybody to ports of entries, then they're telling them, 'In fact, you have to wait in Mexico,'" Sherman-Stokes told WBUR. "This is exactly the playbook that the administration has consistently followed: create a crisis, say they're not responsible and then purport to rescue us from the crisis."