By a vote of 21-12, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill to reform asylum laws by closing loopholes that encourage illegal immigration.
Authored by Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act (HR 1153) seeks to strengthen asylum standards by preventing the “rubberstamping” of fraudulent claims, ending the process of “catch and release” and ensuring that American taxpayer dollars are not being used to pay for unlawful immigrants’ lawyers.
“Congressman Chaffetz’s bill, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act, closes loopholes in our immigration system that enable false asylum claims and ends many of the Obama Administration’s policies that encourage illegal immigration,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). “In doing so, the bill restores the integrity of our immigration system so that it works better for our country and those truly persecuted in their home countries.”
Last year, an internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report obtained by the House Judiciary Committee revealed that at least 70 percent of asylum cases contain proven or possible fraud.
Moreover, in another document obtained by the Judiciary Committee, DHS indicated the agency does not regularly detain those who make asylum claims. By not detaining these aliens, US authorities do not have the opportunity to determine whether those claiming asylum actually have a credible fear of persecution or are gaming the system.
Contributing Editor Sylvia Longmire reported in the April-May, 2014 Homeland Security Today that when an undocumented alien enters the US illegally for the first time and has no criminal history, they are often released on their own recognizance. Many abscond and never return for their hearings.
These loopholes can also be exploited by malicious actors, including terrorists and drug smugglers. As Homeland Security Today previously reported, drug smugglers have continually used loopholes in the nation’s immigration law to make billions, according to Subcommittee on Homeland Security Appropriations chairman John Carter (R-Texas).
HR 1153 will tighten the standards aliens have to meet in order to curtail fraud.
“By strengthening the standards for ‘credible fear’ claims, we will have the ability to more quickly identify those abusing the asylum program and provide a disincentive for others to follow their lead,” Chaffetz said.
With strong speculation indicating that there will likely be another surge of illegal aliens from Central America arriving at the US border, tightening asylum laws will be crucial in swiftly processing asylum seekers and closing long-exploited holes in the US’ asylum practices.
For example, Longmire reported that in August 2013 a group of 200 illegal immigrants from several countries took advantage of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) being flooded by asylum cases. The group overwhelmed the Otay Mesa port of entry in Southern California, all claiming credible fear. They had to be put up in local hotels or released pending a hearing because there was no room in the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities.
“President Obama’s lax immigration enforcement has created disorder at our southern border,” Goodlatte said. “There has been an explosion of asylum claims, many of which are fraudulent and baseless, as word has spread around the world that the Obama administration virtually rubberstamps asylum applications and releases asylum seekers into the United States before their claims are proved valid. Since the Obama administration has not effectively curbed fraud and abuse in the asylum system, this has dramatically encouraged more illegal border crossings.”
Key components of the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act include:
Credible Fear: Fix the very minimal standard under current law that allows an alien apprehended at the border to show a “credible fear of persecution” and then generally be released into our communities while their asylum claim goes through the very lengthy immigration court process. During Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014, DHS approved 92 percent and 80 percent of credible fear claims, respectively – many of which were fraudulent and baseless. The result has been an explosion of claims as word has gotten out of the virtual rubberstamping of applications. The bill would tighten the standard aliens have to meet in order to curtail fraud.
Immigration Parole Reform: The parole statute allows DHS to bring into the US otherwise inadmissible aliens and release detained aliens – but only in very narrow circumstances. Goodlatte said the Obama administration has abused this program – going well beyond the intent of Congress – to admit entire classes of aliens and release large numbers of detained aliens. In order to end this abuse, the bill would specify the precise instances in which parole can be used. A prime benefit of this provision will be to end the “catch and release” of many aliens apprehended at the border who claim a credible fear of persecution, supporters of the legislation said.
HHS/DHS information sharing: The bill would force the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to cooperate with DHS in the removal process, such as by informing DHS as to the location of alien minors who are or have been in its custody.
No Taxpayer Funded Attorneys: While the administration wants taxpayers to foot the bill (to the tune of $50 million) for lawyers for unaccompanied alien minors (UAMs) in removal proceedings, critics say, the Immigration and Nationality Act has long prohibited taxpayer-funded attorneys for aliens in removal proceedings. The proposed bill would make the prohibition more explicit.
Definition of Unaccompanied Alien Minor: The bill would clarify that an alien is not considered a UAM if certain immediate relatives (in addition to parents and guardians) are available to provide for their care and assume physical custody.
Safe Third Countries: The bill would grant DHS the power to remove asylum seekers to safe third countries where they would have access to a full and fair procedure for applying for asylum without the current necessity for bilateral agreements with those countries. This would allow the return of apprehended Central Americans to Mexico where they could apply for asylum.
Termination of Asylum Status: The bill would require termination of asylum status where an asylee returns to their home country from which they sought asylum, absent changed circumstances or a change in country conditions.
“The Judiciary Committee took an important step in plugging a hole in our legal immigration system that has long been abused,” Chaffetz said. “By providing additional resources, we can more efficiently assess the credibility of claims and reduce the wait times for those with legitimate asylum requests.”