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HOME / PRESS RELEASE / HOUSE BILL WOULD RETURN PERSECUTED REFUGEES TO DANGER
July 26, 2017
House Bill Would Return Persecuted Refugees to Danger
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Immigration Detention, Refugee Protection
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged members of the House Judiciary Committee to reject the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act when it marks up the legislation today. The bill would severely undermine access to protection for genuine refugees.
“The proposed legislation does nothing to enhance the integrity of our asylum system, but instead puts individuals, particularly women and children, at grave risk of return to persecution, trafficking, and death in their home or third countries,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Instead, this bill is a disgraceful attempt to evade U.S. refugee protection responsibilities and foist them on to other countries. Not only would this effort undermine U.S. global leadership, but it would set a poor example for the countries hosting the vast majority of the world’s refugees. The bill would make it even more difficult for refugees to receive asylum in our already rigorous asylum system and leave vulnerable children, families, and other individuals at risk of severe harm or death.”
The bill seeks to make it harder for those fleeing persecution and torture to file for asylum in the United States, a process already fraught with obstacles. Several groups of particularly vulnerable individuals—including children, women, and LGBTQ asylum seekers—would be disproportionately impacted by certain provisions, which essentially eliminate protection for refugees who have been victims of crimes in their home countries. The bill attempts to eliminate the statutory basis for release on parole, which would leave asylum seekers detained in violation of U.S. treaty obligations, and held in jails and facilities with conditions similar to jails despite the existence of more cost-effective and humane alternative measures that result in compliance and appearance at hearings. The bill also seeks to ban federal government-funded counsel, including for unaccompanied children, some of whom are toddlers or even younger.
Human Rights First, along with 73 other rights and immigration groups, sent a letter to members of the committee today urging them to reject the legislation. Among many changes to law, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2017 would:
Raise the expedited removal screening standard to an unduly high level. The bill would require that an asylum seeker—in order to even be allowed to apply for asylum—not only show a “significant possibility of establishing eligibility for asylum” but also prove it is more likely than not that his or her statements are true—the standard for a full adjudication, not a summary screening interview.
Appear to prevent arriving asylum seekers who have passed the credible fear screening process from being paroled from immigration detention, instead leaving them in jails and jail-like facilities for months or longer, even though there are more fiscally-prudent and humane alternatives that have been proven effective.
Deny asylum to large numbers of refugees based on transit or stays in countries where they had no legal status, or no lasting legal status, and to which they cannot be returned in most cases. This provision would seek to deny asylum to many refugees who have passed through Mexico, despite the risks and severe protection deficiencies there. In addition, refugees—who may have languished in a refugee camp for decades without the ability to legally work, access education or secure legal permanency—with valid claims would be left in a state of uncertainty, with no prospects for a durable solution and no secure future for themselves and their children.
Allow asylum applicants and unaccompanied children to be bounced to third countries (such as Mexico) despite the dangers and lack of protection from return to persecution there, and in the absence of any agreement between the United States and the countries in question for the reception of asylum seekers.
Categorically deny asylum and withholding of removal to refugees targeted for criminal harm—including rape and killing—based on their membership in a particular social group in their countries of origin. This extraordinarily broad provision would deny protection to asylum seekers who have been beaten for being gay, who have suffered horrific domestic abuse, or who have been treated as property by virtue of their status as women, to name but a few examples. It would also effectively eliminate asylum eligibility or withholding of removal for asylum seekers who have been victims of or who fear persecution related to gang violence in their home country.
State that the government not bear expense for counsel. The bill also states that in no instance will the federal government bear expense for counsel for anyone in removal or appellate proceedings. Children – including toddlers – the mentally disabled, and other vulnerable people cannot represent themselves in our complex immigration system.
Last week Human Rights First released a new report assessing the dangers facing refugees in Mexico in the wake of proposals from the Trump Administration and Congress to block refugees passing through Mexico from seeking protection in the United States. The analysis, “Dangerous Territory: Mexico Still Not Safe for Refugees” finds that migrants and refugees in Mexico face risks of kidnapping, disappearance, sexual assault, and trafficking, and that Mexican authorities routinely deport individuals to their home countries regardless of whether they fear return to persecution and the country’s human rights obligations.
Human Rights First notes that when Congress—with strong bipartisan support—passed the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States codified its commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its Protocol. Under those treaties, states can’t return refugees to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or reject potential refugees at the border. The United States is also a party to the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits governments from sending people to places where they would be in danger of being tortured, and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and migrants. Instead of turning away those seeking protection, the United States should be doing more to ensure their protection claims are properly assessed and due process is safeguarded.
“At a time when the world faces the largest refugee crisis in history, this bill sends a dangerous message to other nations, including those who host the overwhelming majority refugees: that the United States intends to shirk its responsibility to those fleeing violence and persecution,” added Acer.
For more information or to speak with Acer, contact Corinne Duffy at 202-370-3319 or DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org.
Senior Director, Refugee Protection
RELATED PRESS RELEASES
I also highly recommend this “spot on” analysis by David Bier of the Cato Institute of this warped and misguided attempt by GOP restrictionists in the House to destroy Due Process in the U.S. Asylum system without in any way addressing the real issues — conditions in foreign countries and our outdated and unuduy restrictive legal immigration system.
I Bier writes:
NOTE: The charts and formatting are much better if you go to,the link than on the reprinted version below.
Statement for the Record of David Bier of the Cato Institute* Submitted to House Committee on the Judiciary Markup of “H.R. 391 – Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act” July 26, 2017
The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act (H.R. 391) would undermine the individual rights of people fleeing persecution and violence to seek asylum in the United States. The bill would obliterate the current asylum standards and now require asylum seekers to prove their claims to an impossible degree immediately upon their arrival at the border—without access to the documents or witnesses that they would need to do so. The government would then promptly deport without a hearing before an immigration judge those who fail this unattainable requirement, possibly to endure violence or persecution. The authors claim that this radical change is necessary due to an unprecedented surge of asylum applicants. In the 1990s, however, a similar surge of asylum seekers arrived in the United States, and Congress adopted much less severe reforms than those proposed in this bill. Even assuming that the applicants are submitting asylum applications for the sole purpose of gaining entrance to the United States, the bill does nothing to address the underlying cause of the problem: the lack of a legal alternative to migrate. As long as legal immigration remains impossible for lesser- skilled workers and their family members, unauthorized immigration of various kinds will continue to present a challenge. Asylum rule change will result in denials of legitimate claims Current law requires that asylum seekers at the border assert a “credible fear” of persecution.1 Asylum officers determine credibility based on whether there is a “significant possibility” that, if they allow the person to apply, an immigration judge would find that the fear is “well-founded,” a higher standard of proof. The credible fear interview screens out only the claims that obviously have “no possibility, or only a minimal or mere possibility, of success,” as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) puts it.2 If the USCIS asylum officer rejects the claim as not credible, the applicant may ask an immigration judge to review the determination the next day but is not granted a full hearing. Customs and Border Protection removes those who fail to assert or fail to articulate a credible fear. H.R. 391 would impose a much higher standard simply to apply for asylum in the United States. In addition to demonstrating that they had significant possibility of successfully proving their claim to an immigration judge, it would require applicants to prove that it is “more probable than
* The Cato Institute is a libertarian 501(c)(3) nonprofit think tank founded in 1977 and located in Washington D.C.
not” that their claims are true—a preponderance of the evidence standard.3 This standard eviscerates the lower bar that Congress established. The committee simply cannot expect that asylum seekers who may have had to sneak out of their country of origin in the dead of night or swim across rivers to escape persecution will have sufficient evidence the moment they arrive in the United States to meet this burden. In 2016, a group of Syrian Christians who traveled thousands of miles across multiple continents and then up through Mexico to get to the United States arrived at the border to apply for asylum.4 Thankfully, they met the credible fear standard and were not deported, which enabled them to hire an attorney to help them lay out their claim, but this new standard could endanger anyone who follows their path. An inability to provide sufficient evidence of their religion, nationality, residence, or fear would result in deportation immediately after presenting themselves at the border. The authors imply that requiring them to prove their statements are true is not the same as requiring them to prove their entire asylum case, but this is a distinction without a difference.5 Asylum applicants must state a “credible fear” of persecution. Those statements would then be subject to the much more stringent standard. Of course the government should demand the truth from all applicants, but this is a question of the standard by which asylum officers should use to weed truth from falsehood. It is virtually impossible that, by words alone, asylum seekers could prove that it is “more probable than not” that their statements are true. The committee should consider this fact: in 2016, immigration judges reversed nearly 30 percent of all denials of credible fear that came to them on appeal.6 This means that even under the current law, asylum officers make errors that would reject people with credible claims of persecution. If Congress requires an even greater burden, many more such errors will occur, but faced with the higher evidentiary requirement, immigration judges will have little choice but to ratify them. Here is another sign that the truth is not enough: asylum applicants with attorneys were half as likely to have their asylum denied by immigration judges in 2016 as those without attorneys. Indeed, 90 percent of all applicants without counsel lose their case, while a majority with counsel win theirs.7 This demonstrates that people need more than just honesty—they also need to understand what evidence is relevant to their case and need help to gather documents, witnesses, and other evidence to support their claim. For these reasons, Congress never intended the credible fear interview as a rigorous adversarial process because it wanted to give people who could credibly articulate a fear of persecution an opportunity to apply. It knew that while some people without legitimate claims would be able to apply, the lower standard of proof would protect vulnerable people from exclusion. As Senator Alan Simpson, the sponsor of the 1996 bill that created the credible fear process, “it is a significantly lesser fear standard than we use for any other provision.”8 Indeed, during the debate over the compromise version of the bill, proponents of the legislation touted that the fact that they had dropped “the more probable than not” language in the original version.9
Asylum surge is not unprecedented People can either apply for asylum “affirmatively” to USCIS on their own or they can apply “defensively” after they come into the custody of the U.S. government somehow, such as at the border or airport, to an immigration judge, which would include the credible fear process. If USCIS denies an “affirmative” applicant who is in the country illegally, the government places them in removal proceedings before an immigration judge where they can present their claim again. Reviewing the data on asylum claims, two facts become clear: total asylum claims peaked in the 1990s, and a substantial majority of claims are affirmative—that is, done voluntarily, not through the credible fear process or through removal proceedings. Although credible fear claims—a process that was first created in 1997—have increased dramatically, the overall number of asylum claims has still not reached the highs of the early 1990s. Unfortunately, the immigration courts have not published the number of cases that they received before 1996, but as Figure 1 shows, the United States has experienced similar surges of asylum seekers to 2016.10
Figure 1 Asylum Applications Received and Credible Fear Claims Approved, 1985-2016 160,000 140,000 120,000 100,000 80,000 60,000 40,000 20,000 0 USCIS Asylum Cases Immigration Judge Asylum Cases Credible Fear Approvals Sources: Department of Justice; Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services It is noteworthy that in the midst of the surge in the 1990s, Congress did not adopt the draconian approach that this bill would require. Rather, it created the credible fear process that the bill would essentially eliminate. The authors of the legislation, however, argue that the Obama administration turned the credible fear process into a rubber stamp, allowing applicants to enter regardless of the credibility of their claims. But again a look at the numbers undermines this 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
It is noteworthy that in the midst of the surge in the 1990s, Congress did not adopt the draconian approach that this bill would require. Rather, it created the credible fear process that the bill would essentially eliminate. The authors of the legislation, however, argue that the Obama administration turned the credible fear process into a rubber stamp, allowing applicants to enter regardless of the credibility of their claims. But again a look at the numbers undermines this
narrative. As Figure 2 highlights, the Obama administration denied an average of about 25 percent of all asylum seekers from 2009 to 2016.11
Figure 2 Credible Fear of Persecution Claims, FY 1997 to 2017 120,000 100,000 80,000 60,000 40,000 20,000 0 Completed Cases (left) Approval Share (Rate) Sources: Rempell (1997-2008); USCIS (2009-2016)
Despite fluctuations of up to 35 percentage points during this time, there is simply no relationship at all between the rate of approval and the number of claims being made. Factors other than the approval rate must be driving the number of applications. Some of these claims are undoubtedly invalid or even fraudulent, but given that a majority of claims by individuals with representation in immigration court win their asylum claims, it is obvious that the credible fear process has protected many people from deportation to persecution abroad.12 If fraudulent claims are a concern, Congress can best address it in the same way that it has successfully addressed other aspects of illegal immigration from Mexico: through an expansion of legal immigration. During the 1950s and again recently in the 2000s, Congress expanded the availability of low-skilled guest worker visas, which led to a great reduction in the rate of illegal immigration. Figure 3 presents the number of guest workers entering each year and the number of people each border agent apprehended each year—the best available measure of illegal immigration. It shows that the period of high illegal immigration occurred almost exclusively during the period of restrictive immigration.13 Most guest workers today are Mexicans.14 This is largely due to the fact that the current guest worker programs are limited to seasonal temporary jobs and Mexico is closer to the United
States, which makes trips to and from the United States easier. By comparison, most asylum seekers are from Central America. Assuming that a significant portion of these asylum seekers are either reuniting with illegal residents already in the United States or are seeking illegal residence themselves, these seasonal programs are unavailable to them.
Figure 3 Guest Worker Entries and Apprehensions of Illegal Aliens per Border Patrol Agent, 1946-2015 1,200 500,000 1,000 800 600 400 200 400,000 300,000 200,000 100,000 00 Apprehensions Per Agent (left) Guest Workers (Right) Sources: Border Patrol; Immigration and Naturalization Service; Department of Homeland Security 1946 1948 1950 1952 1954 1956 1958 1960 1962 1964 1966 1968 1970 1972 1974 1976 1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Congress should create a temporary work visa program for low-skilled workers in year-round jobs, similar to the H-1B visa for high-skilled workers.15 This would cut down on asylum fraud and illegal immigration without the downsides that this bill presents.
1 8 U.S. Code § 1225 2 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Lesson Plan Overview – Credible Fear,” February 28, 2014, http://cmsny.org/wp-content/uploads/credible-fear-of-persecution-and-torture.pdf. 3 P. 2 Justia, “Evidentiary Standards and Burdens of Proof,” https://www.justia.com/trials-litigation/evidentiary-standards- burdens-proof/ 4 Molly Hennessy-Fiske, “Who were the Syrians who showed up at the Texas border? Some are Christians,” Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-syrian-texas-christians-20151207- story.html 5 “Markup of H.R. 1153, The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act,” House Judiciary Committee, March 4, 2015, https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/03.04.15-Markup-Transcript.pdf. 6 U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review, “FY 2016 Statistics Yearbook,” March 2017, https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/fysb16/download. 7 TracImmigration, “Continued Rise in Asylum Denial Rates,” Syracuse University, December 13, 2016, http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/448/. 8 142 Cong. Rec. S4492 (1996) https://www.congress.gov/crec/1996/05/01/CREC-1996-05-01-pt1-PgS4457.pdf 9 142 Cong. Rec. H11081 (1996) https://www.congress.gov/crec/1996/09/25/CREC-1996-09-25-pt1-PgH11071- 2.pdfhttps://www.congress.gov/crec/1996/09/25/CREC-1996-09-25-pt1-PgH11071-2.pdf 10 U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review, “Statistics Yearbook,” https://www.justice.gov/eoir/statistical-year-book Department of Homeland Security, “Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2004,” https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Yearbook_Immigration_Statistics_2004.pdf U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Asylum Division Quarterly Stakeholder Meeting,” https://search.uscis.gov/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&affiliate=uscis_gov&query=Asylum+Division+Quarterly+Stak eholder+Meeting&commit= 11 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Division, “Credible Fear Data,” https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Outreach/PED- Credible_Fear_Workload_Report_Summary_POE_and_Inland_Caseload_through_2015-09.pdf https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Outreach/Upcoming%20National%20Engagements/PED_CredibleF earReasonableFearStatisticsNationalityReport.pdf https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Outreach/PED- Credible_Fear_Workload_Report_Summary_POE_and_Inland_Caseload_through_2015-09.pdf https://www.chapman.edu/law/_files/publications/clr-18-rempell.pdf https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Outreach/PED- _Credible_Fear_and_Reasonable_Fear_Statistics_and_Nationality_Report.pdf 12 http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/448/ 13 Alex Nowrasteh, “Guest Worker Visas Can Halt Illegal Immigration,” Cato Institute, May 5, 2014, https://www.cato.org/blog/guest-worker-visas-can-halt-illegal-immigration. 14 Alex Nowrasteh, “H-2B Expansion Doubles Down on Successful Border Control Strategy,” Cato Institute, December 23, 2015, https://www.cato.org/blog/h-2b-expansion-doubles-down-successful-border-control-strategy. 15 Alex Nowrasteh, “How to Make Guest Worker Visas Work,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis 719, January 31, 2013, https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/how-make-guest-worker-visas-work.
Bier’s report notes that U.S. Immigration Judges overruled approximately 30% of credible fear denials by the DHS Asylum Office. Although I did a modest number of credible/fear reasonable fear reviews, including some in temporary assignments to “detained courts” on the Southern Border, I found the number of erroneous credible/reasonable fear denials to be in the 80% to 90% range, including a number of cases that were “clear grants” under Fourth Circuit case law. The idea that Border Patrol Officer could fairly make these determinations is beyond preposterous!
Chairman Goodlatte and his GOP buddies seek nothing less than the end of a fair asylum adjudication system that fulfills our international mandates. H.R. 391 also makes a mockery of due process. In other words, the Goodlatte GOP crowd seeks to turn the U.S. into a “Third World” imitation of a democracy. These types of legislative tactics are exactly what I saw for 21 years of adjuducating claims from countries where the rule of law had broken down.
Whether immigration/refugee advocates or not, every American Citizen who cares about our Constitution and the rule of law should be fighting measures like this tooth and nail. If Goodlatte & Co. win, we all lose, and America will be well on its way to becoming just another third world facade of a democratic republic.
Rather than the totally bogus restrictionist agenda being pushed by Goodlatte and the GOP, here’s what REALLY should concern us as a nation, taken from one of my recent speeches:
“Our Government is going to remove those who lose their cases to countries where some of them undoubtedly will suffer extortion, rape, torture, forced induction into gangs, and even death. Before we return individuals to such possible fates, it is critical that they have a chance to be fully and fairly heard on their claims for protection and that they fully understand and have explained to them the reasons why our country is unwilling and unable to protect them. Neither of those things is going to happen without effective representation.
We should always keep in mind that contrary to the false impression given by some pundits and immigration “hard liners,” losing an asylum case means neither that the person is committing fraud nor that he or she does not have a legitimate fear of return. In most cases, it merely means that the dangers the person will face upon return do not fall within our somewhat convoluted asylum system. And, as a country, we have chosen not to exercise our discretion to grant temporary shelter to such individuals through Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Enforced Departure, or prosecutorial discretion (“PD”). In other words, we are returning them knowing that the effect might well be life threatening or even fatal in many cases.”
Picking on the already vulnerable, disposed, and endangered is what the Goodlatte/GOP restrictionist program is really about.