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Why Refugee Families in the U.S. Still Cannot Reunite

A cornerstone of the U.S. refugee system, the Follow-to-Join (FTJ) process is an immigration pathway that allows asylees and resettled refugees to petition for their spouses and children to join them in the United States. The FTJ process is a reflection of clear congressional intent to keep refugee families together, recognizing that they may be separated on their pathway to safety.

However, as a result of the Trump administration’s Muslim Ban, the expansion of refugee security vetting, and other processing changes, the FTJ program has nearly ground to a halt: at the end of the first quarter of FY2021, the FTJ backlog had reached nearly 26,000 applications, with an average processing time of 18 months for just the first part of the process. 

IRAP represents many clients who are desperately waiting to be reunited with their families. On Father’s Day, The Washington Post published an op-ed by resettled Sudanese refugee and current IRAP client, Mr. Abdel Rahman Abdalla. Abdel Rahman has been separated from his wife and children, who remain in Sudan, for almost 15 years, and he has been waiting nearly five years for the U.S. government to process his application. 

Through a combination of advocacy and litigation, IRAP is pushing the U.S. government to address FTJ processing delays and reunite refugee families. In October 2020, IRAP filed a lawsuit on behalf of Darfuri refugees Abdel Rahman and Ali Adam, who have waited for a combined nearly 11 years for decisions on their FTJ petitions, challenging the unlawful and egregious delays. In March of this year, IRAP published a comprehensive report on unreasonable delays in the FTJ process, explaining the systemic processing delays plaguing the pathway and outlining a roadmap for the Biden administration to address them. But to date, no actions have been taken to address these problems.

As part of our advocacy efforts to urge the Biden administration to implement immediate reforms, IRAP is now releasing a new summary crystalizing our recommendations on how to fix the FTJ process. In it, IRAP writes that the Biden Administration should revoke certain Trump-era agency actions, implement needed efficiency and transparency reforms that will streamline processing and increase accountability, reduce interagency confusion by delegating USCIS as the lead federal agency, increase overseas processing capacity, and expand the use of humanitarian parole for FTJ cases that involve unaccompanied children or have been pending for longer than 2 years.

To learn more about IRAP’s efforts to reunite refugee families, visit our family reunification page.