By NATALIA CASTRO
Days before President Obama left office, he removed asylum protections from Cubans who reach US soil in a desperate attempt to flee their oppressive country. This was a strange contrast from the rest of the administration’s efforts, which seemed to support granting asylum to any individual who enters the US by illegal means. Now, the Trump Administration is left with the job of cleaning up the confusion and fraud the Obama Administration propelled.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking a leading role in combating asylum fraud, alongside Trump’s efforts to limit the number of asylum seekers entering the country. This is not because these men do not want these people in our country, but because the system was expanded so significantly under the Obama Administration, agencies can no longer handle the load and maintain security.
In December 2009, President Obama issued a directive that allows individuals illegally entering the US to claim asylum status and automatically receive parole. While the claim of asylum is under review, the illegal immigrant is released in the US and cannot be arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). All these detained individuals need to do is claim they have a credible fear of going back to their country, and nearly immediately, they are released back into American society.
AG Sessions explained before the Executive Office for Immigration Review on Oct. 12, “In 2009, DHS conducted more than 5,000 credible fear reviews. By 2016, that number had increased to 94,000. The number of these aliens placed in removal proceedings went from fewer than 4,000 in 2009 to more than 73,000 by 2016—nearly a 19-fold increase—overwhelming the system and leaving those with just claims buried. The increase has been especially pronounced and abused at the border. From 2009 to 2016, the credible fear claims at the border went from approximately 3,000 cases to more than 69,000.”
This has left a backlog of about 13,000 pending asylum cases for FY 2016 alone, according to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review FY 2016 Statistics Yearbook. Among the 600,000 overall pending immigration cases, an undetermined number of those would be asylum cases as well.
The massive influx of cases due to President Obama’s policy changes in 2009 have left agencies begging for reform.
In December of 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) produced a report entitled “Asylum: Additional Actions Needed to Assess and Address Fraud Risks,” where they detailed the growing prevalence of fraud in this system.
Exact statistics on fraud are unknown because the system allows it to exist. The GAO explains, asylum applicants often claim they must flee their countries without a passport or birth certificate, or have left countries where documentary evidence was not available or may have fled using fraudulent documents to hide their identity and escape persecution.
This allows individuals to reapply for asylum continually using fake information or build stories which demonstrate “credible fear” that have no proof or backing. Then a single immigration judge makes the blind *judgment* call to determine if the “credible fear” is enough to grant asylum. Or even more often, when judges are unavailable individuals wait on asylum parole for an extended period. When their trials finally come around, the illegal immigrants are nowhere to be found and continue living in the country.
Session best articulates the impact this has on our entire immigration system, “DHS found a credible fear in 88 percent of claims adjudicated. That means an alien entering the United States illegally has an 88 percent chance to avoid expedited removal simply by claiming a fear of return.”
Rather than acting as a method of protecting individuals from oppressive foreign governments, the US asylum system has turned into an opportunity for illegal immigrants to exploit and backlog the entire immigration system.
President Trump and AG Sessions have added a significant number of judges to immigration courts to reduce the backlog and rebalance the courts, as well as limited the number of refugees and asylum seekers allowed to enter the country to give the DHS time to reconstruct the system. But as Sessions makes clear, Congress must act.
Sessions explains, “Congress must pass the legislative priorities President Trump announced this week, which included significant asylum reform, swift border returns, and enhanced interior enforcement. We can impose and enforce penalties for baseless or fraudulent asylum applications and expand the use of expedited removal. We can elevate the threshold standard of proof in credible fear interviews. We can expand the ability to return asylum seekers to safe third countries. We can close loopholes and clarify our asylum laws to ensure that they help those they were intended to help.”
But all of this can only be done if Congress is willing to work to remove the harmful policies of the Obama Administration. While the previous administration denied the needy the opportunity for safety, in favor of expanding asylum for illegal immigrants, President Trump’s leadership grants the chance to restore the order and the integrity of our immigration system.
Natalia Castro is a contributing editor for Americans for Limited Government.
Correction: A prior version of this article stated that there were over 600,000 pending asylum cases. While there is such a backlog for all immigration cases, 13,000 are for FY 2016 alone, according to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review FY 2016 Statistics Yearbook, with an undetermined amount for prior fiscal years.
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