Nicole Lewis reports for the Washington Post Fact Checker:
“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.”
-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, remarks to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, Oct. 12, 2017
On Oct. 8, President Trump released a list of strict immigration policiesthat include funding for a border wall with Mexico, restricting federal grants to “sanctuary cities,” and a scaling back of legal pathways to citizenship. Just a few days later, on Oct. 12, Attorney General Jeff Sessions encouraged Congress to pass the administration’s legislative priorities to solve the “crisis at our borders.”
In a speech, Sessions described an immigration system rife with “fraud and abuse” which paves the way for millions of immigrants to enter the country illegally. Sessions zeroed in on the asylum system in the United States, asserting that “dirty immigration lawyers” are coaching their clients to make “fake claims” to trigger “credible fear” proceedings so they can stay in the United States.
Regular readers of The Fact Checker may recall we’ve dug into Sessions rhetoric on immigration before, often giving him Pinocchios for statements that are thin on the facts. Is this just one more instance of Sessions’ inflammatory rhetoric or is the rise in new cases due primarily to fraud and lawyers, as he claims? Let’s take a look.
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The Pinocchio Test
Sessions claims “dirty immigration lawyers,” are coaching their clients to make false claims to stay in the United States. But his claim rests on little evidence. The GAO report his spokesman cited details the challenges of evaluating how widespread fraud in the asylum system is. And Sessions seems to be confusing the details of the credible fear process. Most credible fear claims happen at the border without the consultation of lawyers.
The data show that people from Central America, where violence and humanitarian abuses have surged, make up most of the credible fear claims. About 80 percent of the time, a trained immigration official ruled that the cases are legitimate, requiring a court ruling.
Sessions lacks the evidence to make his claim but he uses the lack of evidence in a dubious way, filling in the missing pieces with inflammatory rhetoric on immigration fraud and casting immigration lawyers in a negative light. Until Sessions can point to concrete evidence of widespread fraud, he should refrain from making such sweeping and definitive statements. We award Sessions Three Pinocchios.