Fix asy­lum rules, Ses­sions tells Con­gress

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - SARI HOR­WITZ In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Maria Sacchetti and Matt Zapo­to­sky of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

WASH­ING­TON — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions called on Con­gress Thurs­day to tighten the rules for peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum through a sys­tem he said is filled with “ram­pant abuse and fraud.”

In a speech at the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fice for Im­mi­gra­tion Re­view, Ses­sions said the na­tion’s poli­cies al­low too many asy­lum­seek­ers to ex­ploit loop­holes in a “bro­ken” and ex­tremely back­logged process.

“The sys­tem is be­ing gamed,” Ses­sions said. “Over the years, smart at­tor­neys have ex­ploited loop­holes in the law, court rul­ings and lack of re­sources to sub­stan­tially un­der­mine the in­tent of Con­gress. … There is no cost or risk for those who make a base­less asy­lum claim.”

Tight­en­ing stan­dards in the U.S. asy­lum sys­tem was on a list of im­mi­gra­tion prin­ci­ples and poli­cies that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently said were needed to pro­tect pub­lic safety and jobs for Amer­i­can-born work­ers. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s list, sent to Con­gress, in­cluded the fund­ing of a wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico border, curbs on fed­eral grants to “sanc­tu­ary cities” and a crack­down on the in­flux of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­nors.

Civil-lib­er­ties ad­vo­cates said Ses­sions’ com­ments were in­ac­cu­rate and un­fair to the thou­sands of peo­ple flee­ing from dan­ger­ous, life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions in El Salvador, Gu­atemala, Hon­duras and Venezuela.

“At­tor­ney Gen­eral [Ses­sions’] re­marks to­day were a mere con­tin­u­a­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to falsely paint asy­lum seek­ers and refugees as threats and frauds,” said Eleanor Acer, the se­nior di­rec­tor of refugee pro­tec­tion at Hu­man Rights First. “Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als are not crim­i­nals and frauds; they are moth­ers, teenagers and chil­dren des­per­ate to es­cape vi­o­lence and per­se­cu­tion.”

Asy­lum is given to peo­ple on spe­cific grounds be­cause the per­son fears or has ex­pe­ri­enced per­se­cu­tion based on race, re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity, po­lit­i­cal opin­ion or mem­ber­ship in a par­tic­u­lar so­cial group. There are two ways to be granted asy­lum: One is “af­fir­ma­tive” asy­lum through the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity. Ap­pli­cants have to file a claim within a year of ar­rival in the United States that they fear re­turn­ing home.

The sec­ond is a “de­fen­sive” ap­pli­ca­tion for asy­lum be­cause the per­son has filed late, was re­jected by the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment or was ap­pre­hended with­out proper le­gal doc­u­ments. The de­fen­sive cases are han­dled by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice im­mi­gra­tion courts.

Ses­sions said that many of the asy­lum cases “lacked merit” and are “sim­ply a ruse to en­ter the coun­try il­le­gally.”

“As this sys­tem be­comes over­loaded with fake claims, it can­not deal ef­fec­tively with just claims,” Ses­sions said. “The surge in tri­als, hear­ings, ap­peals, bond pro­ceed­ings has been over­whelm­ing.” He said that “cred­i­ble fear claims” at the border in­creased from about 3,000 cases in 2009 to more than 69,000 cases in 2016. The Jus­tice Depart­ment’s im­mi­gra­tion re­view of­fice has more than 600,000 cases pend­ing, which has tripled since 2009, ac­cord­ing to the depart­ment.

“We also have 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,” Ses­sions said.

Sep­a­rately, the Jus­tice Depart­ment on Thurs­day warned five ju­ris­dic­tions con­sid­ered to have “sanc­tu­ary” poli­cies — Chicago, New Or­leans, New York, Philadel­phia and Cook County, Ill., — that of­fi­cials had pre­lim­i­nar­ily found them to be in vi­o­la­tion of a fed­eral law gov­ern­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion with im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties and they could be at risk of los­ing grant fund­ing. More than $8.3 mil­lion is at stake, a Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman said.

“Ju­ris­dic­tions that adopt so­called ‘sanc­tu­ary poli­cies’ also adopt the view that the pro­tec­tion of crim­i­nal aliens is more im­por­tant than the pro­tec­tion of law-abid­ing ci­ti­zens and of the rule of law,” Ses­sions said in a state­ment.

Last month, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­rested hun­dreds of il­le­gal aliens in cities that are some of the harsh­est op­po­nents of Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton, New York, Bal­ti­more and Los An­ge­les.

In his Thurs­day speech, the at­tor­ney gen­eral called on his for­mer col­leagues — he was once a U.S. se­na­tor from Alabama — to re­vamp the asy­lum sys­tem by im­pos­ing penal­ties for fraud­u­lent ap­pli­ca­tions, in­crease the use of ex­pe­dited re­moval, el­e­vate the stan­dard of proof in “cred­i­ble fear” in­ter­views and ex­pand the abil­ity to re­turn asy­lum seek­ers to safe third coun­tries.

“What we can­not do — what we must not do — is con­tinue to let our gen­eros­ity be abused,” Ses­sions said.

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