The White House signaled Thursday that it will support a House Republican proposal to overhaul the U.S. asylum system, saying that stricter rules are needed to prevent fraud and abuse in the the asylum claims process.
The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, would raise the standard for proving a “credible fear” of persecution in an asylum applicant’s home country and limit when immigration authorities can use parole to admit immigrants into the U.S.
The White House sees the bill, which passed the House Judiciary Committee in a party line vote Wednesday, as a bulwark against potential transnational gang recruits entering the U.S. under the guise of asylum, according to a senior administration official.
“The asylum process right now is extremely prone to fraud and the amount of fraud found on those applications is enormous,” the official told reporters Thursday. “People can game the system by filing applications and then just disappearing [into the U.S.].”
While immigration hawks have largely focused their attention on illegal immigration and, to a lesser extent, the number of legal immigrants admitted every year, the asylum process has also come under fire from critics who say it is too easily abused. Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge and currently a fellow at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, argues that the standards for proving a credible fear are too low.
“In the credible fear process, however, the alien is not screened before entering the United States, and there are significant weaknesses and vulnerabilities in verifying the alien’s identity and screening his or her claim for fraud after the alien enters this country,” Arthur wrote in an April report.
The main vulnerability in the asylum system is that that asylum officers often have to rely solely on an applicant’s testimony, which can be nearly impossible to corroborate, Arthur says. Compounding that weakness, many asylum applicants are then released while they await a determination from an immigration judge, with no way track those who fail to return for court hearings.
“Aliens found to have credible fear are often released from custody before their asylum claims are heard in immigration court,” Arthur wrote. “This is significant from a fraud standpoint because … a finding of credible fear can be made without the alien presenting any corroborating evidence, or even identity documents.”
Johnson’s bill seeks to raise the evidentiary standards for proving credible fear by requiring an applicant’s statements to be “more probable than not true.” That subtle change would make it easier for immigration judges to suss out inconsistencies between testimony and other evidence of persecution. The proposal would also tighten the rules governing the use of immigration parole, an authority the Obama administration used to admit thousands of Central American migrants from 2014 to 2016.
The asylum bill could become an afterthought given the slate of contentious immigration legislation scheduled to be taken up by Congress in the coming legislative session, including two enforcement bills: Kate’s Law and the Davis Oliver Act. However, the White House says it will push for asylum reform along with the higher-profile measures.
“We are extremely hopeful that Congress will reform our asylum procedures to end asylum abuse, asylum fraud and the gaming of the system so it can be used as properly intended,” the administration official said. “This will also be an important to tool to preventing gang infiltration of this country.”
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