The crisis at our southern borders with Mexico brought attention to a legal immigration pathway that has been flying under the radar and thus rife with fraud and abuse for a long time: asylum. I talked about this on Fox News this week — see the clip below.
The legal definition for asylum is someone “who is already in the U.S. who has been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” As my colleague John D. Davidson points out in a recent article, the vast majority of the current Central American caravan do not qualify for asylum based on this legal definition.
This is a known fact, yet they intend to do it anyway. Overall, applications for asylum have surged in recent years. What gives?
First, even though the legal definitions of refugees and asylum seekers are pretty much the same, the United States only admits refugees who are currently outside the United States and referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Yet any foreigner who is inside the United States can claim to be an asylum seeker.
Since the federal law on asylum doesn’t define how someone gets inside the United States, even someone who is in the United States illegally is still eligible to seek asylum. Thus, for illegal immigrants, asylum is the path of least resistance.
Second, while each refugee has to go through a background check and multiple in-person interviews by federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the screening for asylum is much less stringent because the definition of what constitutes persecution has become very broad and is not evidence-based. Immigration officers rely solely on their own sixth sense and the applicant’s words.
Typically, an asylum-seeker can get approval and become a permanent U.S. resident in a few months after one interview or one court appearance. Once approved, they are eligible to work immediately, are eligible for many federal welfare benefits, and can apply for permanent residency in one year. So, asylum is the quickest way for someone who is in the U.S. illegally to become a legal resident.
There is an increasing of waiting time for processing asylum claims due to rising demand. But for illegal immigrants the wait doesn’t matter because as long as they file their asylum claim and receive a court date, they will be released inside the United States and can then melt away easily into the underground economy, doing what they always planned to do: make money.
Many of them have no intention to show up at their court date, because the goal isn’t to pursue legitimate claims but to find work. Their abuse of U.S. law takes up time and resources that rightfully belong to legitimate asylum-seekers.
Third, no quota restrictions. For someone who was born outside the United States, U.S. immigration laws lays out five pathways that foreigners may take to become permanent U.S. residents: family reunion, employment, visa lottery, refugees, and asylum. Congress set quotas for the first three immigration categories in immigration laws, and authorized the president to set an annual quota for the number of refugees the United States will admit.
Asylum is only category not subject to any quota. The implication is that the United States will take as many asylum-seekers as it can.
The ease of the screening process and the short timeframe it takes to get a green card have turned the program into a haven for fraud. Even the liberal media agrees. The New Yorker profiled how some asylum-seekers either fabricated horror stories on their own or were coached by lawyers or nonprofit workers based on previous approved asylum cases.
“The immigration people know the stories. There’s one for each country. There’s the Colombian rape story—they all say they were raped by the FARC. There’s the Rwandan rape story, the Tibetan refugee story. The details for each are the same,” The New Yorker reported.
The prevalence of fraud and abuse among asylum-seekers is so well known that it has given birth to an industry of lies: law offices, businesses, and activist groups become rich by fabricating narratives of persecution, creating counterfeit supporting documents, inventing witness testimony, and coaching interviews.
To solve our border crisis and minimize fraud and abuse so legitimate applicants can get the help they need, it’s time for Congress to reform the federal statute regarding asylum. Here are suggestions on how to do it:
- Make asylum-seekers apply at a legal port of entry. Illegal entry should disqualify an asylum claim.
- Hold those who commit fraud or assist in committing fraud in asylum legally accountable.
- Impose an annual quota on the number of asylum-seekers the country will absorb.
- Enhance screening of claims and delay the timing of when asylum-seekers can apply for benefits and green cards.
- Make it easier for economic migrants to apply for temporary work visas so they don’t crowd out legitimate applicants.
What’s happening on our southern borders is the result of years of inaction on meaningful immigration reform. Congress can’t keep kicking the can down the road. It must act now.