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Asylum Abuse on the Rise?

picture-54According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, the number of people granted temporary asylum jumped from 13,931 to 36,026 in the last fiscal year. This tripling of claims has lawmakers worried that illegal border crossers, including members of drug cartels, may be filing fraudulent claims to slow their deportation.

Asylum is granted to those who can establish a “credible fear” of being persecuted in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. A person can request asylum at a land or air port of entry, or while residing illegally in the U.S. Temporary asylum is given to those who can provide an initial showing of “credible fear.” If they pass a criminal background check, they are released into the U.S. and given a date to appear in court. If they show up on that date, a judge decides if they can remain in the country. The jump in court findings of credible fear has been significant as well. The numbers increased from 5,523 in fiscal year 2009 to 36,454 in fiscal year 2013.

On Dec. 12, 2013 the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to address reports from Border Patrol Agents about abuse in the asylum system. Agents were reporting that drug cartels were coaching drug runners to claim asylum in hopes of being allowed to stay in the U.S. longer. These are some examples of the abuses the House Judiciary Committee uncovered:

  • Two families involved in drug trafficking came to the U.S. claiming "credible fear" of persecution, then began targeting each other once they were here;

  • Two women made a claim of asylum and three months later were apprehended at a Border Patrol checkpoint with more than $1 million in cocaine;

  • Cartel hit-squad members came to the U.S. after they "fell out of grace" with their employers; and

  • An ex-Mexican military soldier and his family claimed "credible fear" and settled in Colorado. When U.S. authorities followed up on them, they were linked to an open investigation involving the seizure of 3,000 pounds of marijuana.

At the hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said “Over the past several years, ‘credible fear’ claims have been granted at ever growing rates… Not surprisingly, credible fear claims have increased… as word has gotten out as to the virtual rubberstamping of applications…[Their] purpose is not to obtain asylum, but rather to game the system by getting a free pass into the U.S. and a court date for which they do not plan to show up.”

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said, “It appears to me that word has gotten out that a ‘credible fear’ claim might be a good way to get into the country…If indeed we allow that process to be abused … then those that we disserve the most are those who are genuinely persecuted."

Ruth Wasem, an immigration specialist for the Congressional Research Service, told the Committee about the spike in claims. She said most came from those asking not to be deported to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, although the numbers also increased for people from Mexico, Ecuador, and India. She could not comment on whether the increase could be attributed to fraud because courts have not reviewed the new claims yet.

Information about the surge of asylum seekers from India first came to light in an investigative report the Arizona Republic published last September. The article noted that thousands of Indians may have entered illegally through Arizona over the last year. Some paid smugglers as much as $35,000 to get to the border, at which time they simply turned themselves in to Border Patrol Agents and asked for asylum.

The Republic reported that claims from Indians alone increased from 80 in fiscal year 2009 to 1,935 as of the third quarter of fiscal year 2013. Nicole Thompson, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, told the Republic that she was unaware of any mass conflict in India that would be contributing to an increase in asylum seekers from India.

The Center for Immigration Studies’ Jessica Vaughan told the Republic the surge of Indians is part of a general trend in which frivolous asylum claims are filed to avoid deportation. She said that ICE implemented new guidelines in January 2010 that made it easier to establish credible fear initially. Although the intent was to prevent people from spending long amounts of time in detention, the guidelines acted like a magnet for new claims. Since claimants are being released pending their asylum hearing, Vaughan said they “disappear into the woodwork ... never to be seen again,” Researching Department of Justice data, reporters found that in fiscal year 2012, nearly 10 percent of Indian asylum seekers failed to show up for their final asylum hearings in court. 

Confirming this general trend, Immigrants' Rights Project attorney Judy London told one media outlet, "They've learned that you can just go up to a border agent and tell them you want asylum."

Unlike refugees, the federal government does not provide funds to help resettle asylum seekers. Since states or local governments bear the cost of helping those in financial need, at least one chief executive has taken steps to stem the flow of incoming asylees. In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage recently aired a proposal that would prohibit asylum seekers and some other immigrants from receiving state-funded General Assistance benefits.

It remains to be seen whether Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte will take steps to shut down the asylum abuse that obviously concerns him. In the same vein, he should consider whether his “openness” to legalizing illegal aliens is making matters worse.

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