Asylum in the US was the political topic de jour in Washington today given a Congressional immigration report and publication of change in Administration rules. The Washington Times (WT) published an exclusive report on government revelations of massive fraud in asylum applications, “Audit finds asylum system rife with fraud; approval laws broken with surge of immigrants”. The Obama Administration announced that it was unilaterally lifting certain restrictions against asylum seekers with possible inadvertent relations with terrorist sponsoring groups. That may be the Administration clearing the way to grant Asylum to an estimated 2,000 Syrians. A Fox News report, “Administration” cited Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who found the Administration’s move “alarming”, while Patrick Leahy (D-VT) , Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that has oversight of the Refugee Act welcomed it.
Endangered Syrian Christians
In December 2013, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report that indicated “asylum applicants are at the highest level in two decades and triple the number of claims from 2012”. The CRS noted that for the 2013 Fiscal year that ended in September “36,026 immigrants have expressed credible fear — a preliminary step in determining asylum — stating that they would like to remain in the U.S. because going back to their countries of origin would put them in harm’s way”. Individuals reaching the US at border crossings, ports of entry and landing at airports can requests asylum for fear of threats in their home country . They are placed in detention for disposition through a hearing process. The US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) approved 30,393 asylees immigrants in 2013. In 2012 44,170 requests for asylum were received and 11,978 were granted. Based on data for 2012 the leading countries of origin for asylum seekers were China, Egypt and Ethiopia.
A December 2013, Los Angeles Times (LAT) article on the surge in asylum indicated the magnitude of the spike in requests:
Most asylum applications are still made from inside the country, rather than by claiming credible fear at the border. People who are in the U.S. legally — on a tourist or business visa, for example — file “affirmative” applications, which have also increased, though not as rapidly as credible fear applications. Combined, the two categories have more than doubled in the last five years, exceeding 80,000 in fiscal year 2013
Statistics show that an immigrant’s chance of winning asylum depends largely on where he or she is from.
In 2012, more than 10,000 people from China were granted asylum, compared with just 126 Mexicans and 234 Hondurans, according to federal data. Immigration court figures, which do not include cases approved in an initial hearing by an asylum officer, show a success rate of nearly 50% for Chinese versus 1% for Mexicans.
Still, the process buys time. Almost 90% of credible fear applicants pass an initial screening interview, which allows them to live and work in the U.S. until their cases are resolved — often a matter of years.
In a House Judiciary hearing in December 2013, Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), and Trey Gowdy (R-SC) suggested that the rise in asylum claims may have reflected possible abuse of the immigration system. Chaffetz said, “these credible-fear claimants almost always get approved and are released into our communities … when their asylum claims are ultimately denied, they simply add to the fugitive population in the U.S.”.
CRS immigration experts suggested otherwise. Ruth Wasem of the CRS indicated the increase in asylum claims “alone does not signify an abuse of the claims.”
Today’s WT report affirms the December 2013 immigration hearing allegations with the release of a heretofore confidential government report by the House Judiciary Committee. It noted “at least 70 percent of asylum applications showed signs of fraud, according to a secret 2009 internal government audit that found many of those cases had been approved anyway”. The WT report cited:
The 2009 internal report, which looked at claims made in 2005, found extensive evidence of fraud.
Investigators said 12 percent of the cases they reviewed showed clear evidence of fraud. In some cases, adjudicators missed the evidence, and in other instances, the adjudicators weren’t using tools available to the fraud investigators so they couldn’t have known.
House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlette (R-VA) commented:
Asylum fraud undermines the integrity of our immigration system and hurts U.S. taxpayers. Once individuals are granted asylum, they receive immediate access to all major federal welfare programs. Our immigration system should be generous to those persecuted around the globe, but we must also ensure our compassion isn’t being abused by those seeking to game the system.
The LAT report cited the example of Chinese asylum seekers in a New York fraud case:
Fraud has been an issue, with underground asylum industries thriving in some ethnic communities.
In New York in 2012, 26 people, including six attorneys, were indicted on charges that they manufactured asylum claims and coached Chinese clients on how to lie to immigration authorities. One church employee allegedly provided religious training so applicants could pass as Christians.
Thomas Mayer, a San Gabriel immigration attorney, said Chinese immigrants sometimes ask him to make up a persecution story for them. He refuses, but the demand is growing.
To weed out impostors, Mayer administers a quiz: “Name two important Christian holidays. What is baptism? Who was John the Baptist?”
The Fox News report noted the publication of new rules in the Federal Register on Wednesday loosening restrictions:
The change, approved by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Secretary of State John Kerry, was announced Wednesday in the Federal Register. It would allow some individuals who provided “limited material support” to terror groups to be considered for entry into the U.S.
Supporters of the change, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., argued that the current ban on anyone who has ever aided terrorists has unfairly blocked thousands of refugees.
“The existing interpretation was so broad as to be unworkable,” Leahy said in a statement. “It resulted in deserving refugees and asylees being barred from the United States for actions so tangential and minimal that no rational person would consider them supporters of terrorist activities.”
This and the House Judiciary release of the asylum fraud report prompted Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to respond:
In light of these and other facts, it is thus deeply alarming that the Obama administration would move unilaterally to relax admissions standards for asylum seekers and potentially numerous other applicants for admission who have possible connections to insurgent or terrorist groups. We need to tighten security standards for asylum, not relax them even further.
What is the point of Congress passing a law if the administration abuses its ‘discretion’ to say that law simply no longer applies?
In May 2013, we asked in a post, Can We Stop Refugee Terrorism? Ann Corcoran of Refugee Resettlement Watch noted in a blog post how alleged suspect Igrahim Todashev, killed by the FBI in a shootout in Tampa, Florida, entered the US:
From the Boston Globe:
In 2008, the US government granted Todashev asylum, a protection granted to foreigners with a credible fear for their safety in their homelands because of religious, political, or other specific forms of persecution.
But Reuters reports that Todashev’s father is a government official in Grozny and has close ties to Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadryov.
Todaschev was the alleged accomplice of the late Boston Marathon Bomber Tamerlane Tsarneav in the grisly murder of three men in a Waltham, Massachusetts apartment on 9/11/11.
Mark Kirkorian of the Center for Immigration Studies said the LAT report:
Giving asylum to all kinds of people who are just using it as a path to a green card is not right. Only by keeping the bar high, so the only ones who get asylum are the ones who are really, really deserving, can it remain politically viable.
For Kirkorian that means those fleeing repressive governments and genocide. Now we have an Administration relaxing the bar for asylum that might let in terrorists like Todaschev; this time from war-torn Syria. Any priority for admittance of Syrian refugees should be granted to those meeting Krikorian’s criteria; Armenian and Orthodox Christians facing ethnic cleansing by Al Qaeda affiliates and Islamist opposition militias.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.