Refugee and Asylum Policy Reform (2010)
Refugee and asylum law is overdue for reform. It has strayed far from its original and altruistic intent of offering protection to those who face a credible fear of persecution at the hands of their governments, based on reasons of race, religion, ethnicity, or political belief. That commitment to helping others in distress, that is understood and supported by the public, has been hijacked by political interest groups seeking to advance their own narrow agendas and by non-governmental organizations with lucrative government contracts that pay them to resettle refugees in the United States.
The U.S. refugee program has been expanded to admit persons who were already protected in U.N.-supported refugee camps. The U.S. asylum program has been expanded through judicial advocacy of immigration lawyers who represent asylum claimants. These activists relentlessly seek to expand the definition of asylum to include people who live in failed or dysfunctional nations to the extent that the definition of asylum is now distorted. It now includes people who simply live in nations experiencing social and political turmoil; people who face social ostracism; people in dysfunctional and violent personal or marital relationships; people who live in nations facing environmental degradation or natural disasters; and other circumstances that have little or nothing to do with government repression. All of these people face compelling situations of human misery, but such a broad expansion of the grounds for political asylum could, quite literally, make billions of people around the world eligible for protection in the United States.
Current law puts the United States in the position of admitting the lion’s share of all refugees permanently resettled worldwide, and this represents a major misallocation of resources. In addition, the refugee program has been riddled with fraud as foreigners displaced by conflict in their homelands have sought to improve their lot by gaining entry into the United States as refugees. Our humanitarian instincts have made us vulnerable to criminals — and potentially to terrorists — seeking a path into our country.
Our country’s asylum law has been expanded by legislation and by court decisions to the extent that it has grown from a small program intended for unusual situations, where the return to a home country would constitute exposure to persecution, to become a major component of immigrant admissions. It too, by the absence of evidentiary standards, is open to fraud by persons who have no other basis for entry as immigrants.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS), adopted in 1990 to deal with the tens of thousands of illegal entrants principally from Central America who fled during revolutionary and counter-revolutionary fighting there, has come to operate as a back door route to permanent residence. Because of lobbying by both domestic groups and foreign governments, TPS has been consistently renewed long after the end of any justification for such status.
The interest groups that have stretched and distorted these humanitarian programs are attempting to expand them further by expanding both the number of refugee and asylee admissions and creating new loopholes in the law sought by immigration lawyers to benefit their foreign clients.
The reforms that are truly needed are ones that provide a more rational allocation of resources in support of refugees and the restoration of an asylum policy to provide protection for the small number of people who would qualify as refugees if they were abroad. That cannot be done without establishing a new, limited, clear cut definition of for whom the benefit is available.
The full report is available in pdf format.