Sessions Urges Crackdown on Rampant Asylum Fraud
Legislative Update By: Liz Jacobs
During a speech at the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) last Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that U.S. asylum policies are open to “rampant abuse and fraud” and must be reformed to ensure the integrity of our immigration system. (Department of Justice, Oct. 12, 2017) The nation’s top law enforcement officer called on Congress to reform immigration laws to ensure that only credible claims are granted in the asylum review process. (Id.)
Although federal law requires the government to keep asylum applicants in custody until their claims are processed, former President Barack Obama fostered a catch-and-release policy which allowed asylum applicants to assert a “credible fear” claim and be released into the community while their case was pending. Unsurprisingly, many supposed asylum-seekers never show up for their court hearings, but instead disappear into the interior of the country without any lawful immigration status.
“The consequences are just what you'd expect. Claims of fear to return have skyrocketed, and the percentage of claims that are genuinely meritorious are down," Sessions explained. (Department of Justice, Oct. 12, 2017) According to recent data, the EOIR currently has more than 600,000 asylum cases pending, a number that tripled since the previous administration eased asylum policies in 2009. (Washington Examiner, Oct. 12, 2017) The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) also found that only 30% of asylum cases, of which 90% are initially approved for “credible fear” claims, are fraud-free. (CIS Report, Oct. 18, 2016) Additionally, 90% of the approved cases do not qualify for asylum, but rather become priorities for deportation. (Id.)
Weaknesses of U.S. asylum policies were brought to light during the surge of Central American unaccompanied minors and family units across the southern border beginning in 2013. The surge began following encouragement caused by President Obama’s executive amnesty programs, including DACA, beginning in late 2012.
“The system is being gamed. The credible fear process was intended to be a lifeline for persons facing serious persecution. But it has become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States,” Attorney General Sessions said. (Department of Justice, Oct. 12, 2017) “[A]s this system becomes overloaded with fake claims, it cannot deal effectively with just claims. The surge in trials, hearings, appeals, bond proceedings has been overwhelming,” he added. (Id.)
President Trump included asylum reform in his to-do list for Congress earlier this month. (FAIR Legislative Update, Oct. 10, 2017) In addition to combatting asylum fraud, the administration also asked Congress to reign in control over the country’s borders by funding the wall, supporting interior enforcement efforts, and creating a merit-based immigration system. (Id.)