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Asylum Fraud and the Necessity for Reform

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This week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing entitled, “Asylum Fraud:  Abusing America’s Compassion?”. Witnesses testified to members of the committee over the concern that there is an increase in people submitting fraudulent asylum applications attempting to take advantage of a generous system in a country known as a “beacon of hope and freedom” in the world.  While existing asylum fraud must be combatted, one must also remember not to minimize the urgent need for reforming a system created to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable suffering from a wide range of human rights abuses.

A critical observation must be made in regards to the source of this hearing’s data and basis for the argument of asylum fraud.  This hearing concentrated on a report conducted in 2005, which sampled only 239 asylum cases.  Of this sample, 12% of the cases- 29 of 239 were found to have proven fraud and 58% to show indicators of possible fraud, with a total rate of 70% proven or possible fraud.  Although this is a striking percentage, one must keep in mind the incredibly small sample size and the overall methodology of these reports.

Former District Director Hipolito Acosta addressed the problem of smuggling organizations and groups of organized crime that understand our immigration policies so well that they are able to exploit our weaknesses and in turn perpetuate asylum fraud.  While evidence of these fraudulent claims does exist, the objective should be to confront the source of our weaknesses, instead of simply targeting those that have exposed it. Mr. Crocetti from the Immigration Integrity Group admitted that USCIS is reactive, rather than proactive as far as preventing asylum fraud.  One may argue how the United States immigration system as a whole may be suffering for this exact reason.

The United States immigration system and particularly asylum aspect is indeed in need of reform.  Yet, this reform must be carefully orchestrated, especially taking into account the lives of people fleeing terrible situations with valid and credible asylum claims in the hopes of the United States offering them protection.  Key changes the system requires include:  ensuring proper staffing and resource availability through increased funding for immigration courts in order to eliminate the backlog, increasing anti-fraud tools, and reconsidering the one-year filing deadline. Furthermore, there is a substantial need for better access to legal counsel considering that 50% of applicants are unrepresented, rising to 80% for those that are detained.  The earlier problem of backlog of course negatively affects these numbers as well considering that oftentimes applicants are waiting two to three years for their individual hearings.  This makes it hard to recruit often-necessary pro-bono lawyers to dedicate that much time to a complicated case.

Some consensus may be reached in that fraud does indeed harm everyone.  Endangered asylum applicants with honest claims, our government and immigration system are all stakeholders who urgently need a fundamental strengthening of the immigration and asylum system in order to provide safety and due process to those in need.

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