US Attorney General Calls for Changes to Asylum Rules

19 October, 2017

The United States has long offered asylum protection to people who have fled their own countries and fear they will face threats or harm if they go back.

In the latest available report, over 26,000 were granted asylum in 2015. Many came from China, El Salvador and Guatemala.

However, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session said recently the current system is hurt by a lot of "abuse and fraud." And he demanded stronger rules for people seeking asylum in the U.S.

Sessions said current policies let some people enter the country without a good reason. The immigration court system, he added, is overwhelmed with 600,000 cases awaiting a hearing, although not all are asylum cases.

President Donald Trump has called for major changes to immigration and asylum rules. He has called the current system "broken."

Asylum, a form of protection for refugees

Asylum-seekers could face persecution because of their "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion."

The requirements are part of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It is a 1952 law to protect refugees in the U.S. that has been updated over the years to meet changing needs.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security supervises immigration. Recently, the department's Executive Office for Immigration Review wrote a document, which could influence how judges consider some asylum cases.

The document deals with people younger than 18 who entered the country without their parents. It suggests that these minors could find it harder to seek asylum if they are reunited with their parents in the U.S.

The document says such young people could lose protections under a 2008 law if they turn 18 during court proceedings.

Another possible new standard for immigration judges could require faster decisions on immigration issues in court.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says asylum laws exist to ensure due process. The laws oversee anyone caught at the U.S. border without documents or immigrants detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Any foreign national can seek asylum protection no matter what their immigration status is.

However, asylum-seekers have to apply within one year from the date of their last arrival in the U.S. or show an "exceptional" change in their situation.

Most importantly, asylum-seekers must prove to the asylum officer that they have a "credible fear" of returning to their home country.

Top U.S. lawyer sees problems with some asylum cases

In his speech, Sessions said many asylum cases were not real.

He added that the system "...cannot deal effectively with just claims," and the

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about "the crisis facing our asylum system" at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Falls Church, Virginia, October 12, 2017.

Sessions said the number of people claiming they had a "credible fear" of returning to their home country had increased very sharply. In 2009, there were 3,000 cases. By 2016, there were more than 69,000.

Session added that 88 percent of asylum cases are approved. Numbers from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service show that the approval rate for 2017 was 76 percent.

Mana Yegani is an immigration lawyer in Houston, Texas. She said the credible fear interview is a "very difficult" process for people seeking asylum.

"I had a client who went through a credible fear interview," Yegani said, "She was 19 and she had been gang raped." Yegani went on to say that the interviewing officer was a male and her client could not tell the officer about the gang rape. "She was scared. So, she failed the interview," Yegani said.

An immigration judge reviews the questions an interviewing officer asked an asylum-seeker if a credible fear claim is denied. The judge wants to know if there were errors or if the officer missed something.

Lawyers for the asylum-seeker, however, cannot speak or present new evidence during the hearing. And the immigration judge's decision cannot be appealed. Hearings on credible fear claims usually last between five and 10 minutes.

Yegani said once she had photographs of dead people from a person's family that she wanted to introduce as evidence, but they were not accepted.

Lawyers say that asylum-seekers also must show that law enforcement or government officials in their home country did not protect them.

Yegani said this could lead to denial of a credible fear claim because you have to establish "proof that your government is not willing to support you." Yegani said that many of the people she represents come from countries where they do not trust the police. They also may fear officers could raid their homes or harm their families.

However, some immigration groups note that it is very difficult to know if asylum-seekers are telling the truth. The Federation for American Immigration Reform is a group pushing for reform of immigration laws in the U.S. On its website, the group says, "Because of the nature of asylum claims, the claimant's true background and history are difficult to verify."

As the number of cases increase, so has the number of people waiting for court hearings. The Associated Press has reported that about 70,000 asylum-seekers were being held at family detention centers waiting for a hearing.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Aline Barros reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

fraud –n. using dishonest methods to get something

persecution –n. to treat someone unfairly because of race, religion or other reasons

proceedings –n. the process of appearing before a court so a legal action can go forward

due process –n. the guarantee that all legal proceedings shall be fair and follow the processes established by law

status –n. the position of someone relating to law

exceptional –adj. unusual, not happening very often

verify –v. to find out if something is true

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