HLS Studies Asylum Adjudication

Harvard Law School researchers yesterday released the nation's first independent study of the reformed U.S. asylum adjudication process yesterday, with the new process receiving mixed reviews.

The report, which emerged from two years of study by academics and law students from around the country, says although the procedure has made considerable progress since its inception two years ago, it still has a long way to go.

According to the report, adjudicators are a "substantially more professional, informed, and impartial body of decision makers than the INS examiners who adjudicated asylum claims previously."

"It's vastly improved over the old system," said Law School Lecturer Deborah Anker, who served as research director for the project and coordinates the Law School's immigration and refugee program. But the research group, which is called the National Asylum Study Project of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Program, determined that immigrants applying for asylum still face an organization that is underfunded, understaffed, and in need of serious management reforms.

The report, which was written by study coordinator Susan Ignatius, offers 19 principal recommendations that range from hiring more clerical staff to ensuring that Haitian refugees interned at Guantanamo Bay do not receive nationality-based treatment.


Beginning in November 1991 under a grant from the Ford Foundation, the team reviewed over 1,300 case histories, visited asylum sites, and interviewed asylum directors, applicants and attorneys as well as others involved in the process.

"We tend not to have a lot of good information about how agencies really function on a day-to-day basis," Anker said. "It seemed especially important in immigration because these agencies have so much discretion."

The Harvard research group included statisticians from the Law School, the American Bar Foundation, and SUNY Binghamton, as well as two part-time attorneys and 26 law students, including nine from Harvard, Anker said.