Noah Lanard reports for Mother Jones:
“When people arrive at the border seeking asylum from persecution, the United States gives them the benefit of the doubt. As long as they can show there’s a “significant possibility” that they deserve protection, they’re allowed to stay and make their case to an immigration judge. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress want to change that.
On Sunday, the Trump administration demanded that Congress overhaul the US asylum system as part of any legislation to protect the nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation. The White House’s asylum proposal, laid out in nine bullet-pointed items as part of the broader immigration plan, appears to be modeled on the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act, a bill that Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee approved in July. The bill, which has not been passed by the full House, would make it easier for the Department of Homeland Security to quickly reject asylum claims and force most asylum seekers to remain in detention while their cases are decided. The overall effect would be to transform a system for protecting persecuted people, created in the wake of World War II, into a much more adversarial process.
At a hearing in July, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) warned that the GOP proposal would “all but destroy the US asylum system.” Now Trump is trying to fold those changes into a deal to protect the Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children—who were previously covered by Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Eleanor Acer, an expert on refugees at the advocacy group Human Rights First, saidin a statement Monday that Trump’s demands will “block those fleeing persecution and violence from even applying for asylum, and punish those who seek protection by preventing their release from immigration detention facilities and jails.”
But Republicans like Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) argue that asylum reform is needed to address “pervasive” fraud, such as false claims of persecution. Asylum claims from the “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have been a major focus for Republicans. Between 2013 and 2015, there were more asylum claims from the Northern Triangle, which has been terrorized by MS-13 and other gangs, than in the previous 15 years combined. A 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office found that the United States has “limited capabilities to detect asylum fraud.” But the scope of the problem is not known. Leah Chavla, a program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission, says going after fraud is misguided in light of the many checks and balances that are already in place.
The real “fraudsters” here are the GOP restrictionists, led by folks like Goodlatte, Miller, and Sessions, trying to fob off their knowingly false and contrived narrative on America. Shame!
Second, the current system intentionally denies lawyers to the respondents in detention in obscure locations along the Southern Border, specifically selected to make it difficult for individuals to exercise their rights. Raising the standards would virtually guarantee rejection of all such asylum seekers without any hearing at all. The standard for having asylum granted is supposed to be a generous “well-founded fear” (in other words, a 10% chance or a “reasonable chance”). In fact, however, DHS and EOIR often fail to honor the existing legal standards. Forcing unrepresented individuals in detention with no chance to gather evidence to establish that it is “more likely than not” that they would be granted asylum is a ridiculous travesty of justice.
Third, access to lawyers, not detention, is the most cost-effective way to secure appearance at Immigration Court hearings. Individuals who are able to obtain lawyers, in other words those who actually understand what is happening, have a relatively low rate of “failure to appear.” In fact, a long-term study by the American Immigration Council shows that 95% of minors represented by counsel appear for their hearings as opposed to approximately 67% for those who are unrepresented. See,e.g., https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/taking-attendance-new-data-finds-majority-children-appear-immigration-court
Rather than curtailment of rights or expensive and inhumane detention, the best way of insure that all asylum applicants appear for their scheduled hearings and receive full due process would be to insure that the hearings take place in areas with adequate supplies of pro bono and “low bono” counsel and that hearings are scheduled in a predictable manner that does not intentionally outstrip the capabilities of the pro bono bar.
Fourth, a rational response to fraud concerns would be building better fraud detection programs within DHS, rather than denying vulnerable individuals their statutory and constitutional rights. What would a better system look like: more traditional law enforcement tools, like undercover operations, use of informants to infiltrate smuggling operations, and much better intelligence on the operations of human trafficking rings. And, there’s plenty of resources to do it. DHS just lacks the ability and/or the motivation. Many of the resources now wasted on “gonzo” interior enforcement and mindless detention — sacking up janitors and maids for deportation and detaining rape victims applying for asylum — could be “redeployed” to meaningful, although more challenging, law enforcement activities aimed at rationally addressing the fraud problem rather than using it as a bogus excuse to harm the vulnerable.
Fifth, Goodlatte’s whole premise of fraud among Southern Border asylum applications is highly illogical. Most of the Southern Border asylum claims involve some variant of so-called “particular social groups” or “PSGs,” But, the entire immigration adjudication system at all levels has traditionally been biased against just such claims. and, it is particularly biased against such claims from Central America. PSG claims from Central America receive “strict scrutiny’ at every level of the asylum system! No fraudster in his or her right mind would go to the trouble of “dummying up” a PSG claim which will likely be rejected. No, if you’re going to the trouble of committing fraud, you’d fabricate a “political or religious activist or supporter claim” of the type that are much more routinely granted across the board.
Don’t let Trump, Miller, Sessions, Goodlatte, and their band of shameless GOP xenophobes get away with destroying our precious asylum system! Resist now! Resist forever! Stand up for Due Process, or eventually YOU won’t any at all! Some Dude once said “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” While arrogant folks like the restrictionists obviously don’t believe that, it’s still good advice.