In a Thursday address, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took aim at the ballooning burden of asylum claims on the American immigration review system.
Days after the White House included the asylum system in its immigration reform priorities, Sessions spoke about fraud and abuse in what he called America’s “generous asylum policy,” at the headquarters of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC. “[T]his system is currently subject to rampant abuse and fraud. And as 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 said in his prepared remarks.
Sessions went on to describe a once functional system that, under the stewardship of President Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security, became a loophole through which countless illegals have made their home in the United States while EOIR’s immigration courtrooms are swamped in litigation. As he related, the single greatest change came in 2009, when the Obama administration issued a directive to release into the United States, instead of detain, asylum claimants who merely made an initial credible claim of fear from returning to their home countries.
“The system is being gamed,” Sessions said. “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.”
As Breitbart News reported extensively over the last few years, aliens aware of the Obama-era policy, especially unaccompanied minors, turn themselves in by the thousand, knowing that they stand a good chance of simply being released pending later adjudication. “Almost anyone at all can call themselves an asylum-seeker and get in; it’s a global joke,” Kenneth Palinkas, president of a union representing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers said in 2015. “It’s not border security if anyone can recite the magic words and get waved right on in. Those who arrived in the 2014 border run are still here, often living on US support and even applying for US jobs.”
National Public Radio’s This American Life, in their own reporting from the border this January, provided an anecdote of the workings of the asylum system:
So the girl who said the gangs were after her, she probably wouldn’t get asylum. But she is entitled to a hearing to see. So she’ll be taken to a detention center, processed, and eventually released. She’ll be assigned a court date, but because the system is so backed up, that date can be more than six years from now. And during that time, [Border Patrol agent] Chris [Cabrera] says, she and the others can disappear into America, get work permits. The kids will enter school. They’ll start a life.
Lots of people don’t show up for their court date. They join the 11 million undocumented people living in this country.
The attorney general put stark numerical reality to these reports on the wave of asylum seekers Thursday, saying:
Here are the shocking statistics: 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.
All told the Executive Office for Immigration Review has over 600,000 cases pending—tripled from 2009.
Human smugglers and open-borders NGOs know the law well, and those claiming asylum have internalized the “script” that triggers an initial determination of a credible fear. The attorney general also cited immigration lawyers as a major source of this abuse, saying, “Dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process.”
Breitbart News reported, in June, on organized efforts by the immigration bar to shield as many asylum seekers as possible from deportation. Efforts like these have been aided for years by what Sessions called “case law that has expanded the concept of asylum well beyond Congressional intent.”
Sometimes, Sessions noted, immigration lawyers veer into criminality. “As of March 2014, a joint fraud investigation led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, resulted in charges against 30 defendants, including 8 attorneys, for their alleged participation in immigration fraud schemes,” he said.
Our asylum laws are meant to protect those who because of characteristics like their race, religion, nationality, or political opinions cannot find protection in their home countries. They were never intended to provide asylum to all those who fear generalized violence, crime, personal vendettas, or a lack of job prospects. Yet, vague, insubstantial, and subjective claims have swamped our system.
Sessions called out the current system on its strikingly high approval rates. “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,” he said. “But even more telling, half of those that pass that screening—the very people who say they came here seeking asylum—never even file an asylum application once they are in the United States.”
Final adjudication of the claims found credible by DHS is a major part of EOIR’s caseload. “Denying an asylum application is difficult to prove—and so it seldom happens,” Sessions bemoaned. “That’s why there’s a common, fatalistic refrain you’ll hear from immigration judges and immigration enforcement that ‘the case isn’t over until the alien wins.’”
In response, Sessions reiterated his endorsement of President Trump’s immigration priorities and called on Congress to pass legislation that includes “significant asylum reform, swift border returns, and enhanced interior enforcement.” He added:
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.
The attorney general’s speech was well received among anti-mass migration groups. Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a group that works to combat asylum fraud, told Breitbart News:
Attorney General Sessions accurately described the loopholes, fraud and general attitude of permissiveness that has characterized our immigration system for too long. We applaud the efforts of the Attorney General and the administration to change course and develop an immigration policy that is primarily focused on the best interests of America and its lawful citizens.
Some immigration lawyers, however, reacted with outrage, particularly at Sessions’s use of the term “dirty immigration lawyers.”