Time to Toughen Up on Asylum Fraud

Published on August 9th, 2011

Immigration and fraud—the two are often inseparable. And the big enabler is the federal government that makes fraud easy to commit because of its loosely written laws. Then the government, by looking the other way, makes fraud a piece of cake to get away with.

Some immigrant categories are more susceptible to fraud than others. At the top of the list are refugee and asylum seekers. In his essay in this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled "Changes Are Needed to Address Immigration Asylum Fraud," Temple University law professor and former Immigration and Naturalization Service assistant commissioner for refugees, asylum, and parole Jan Ting shines a light on this important but often overlooked abuse. [Changes are Needed to Address Immigration Asylum Fraud, by Jan Ting, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 4, 2011]

Ting’s essay begins by making the important point that although the U.S. has limits on the numbers of legal immigrants it admits every year, there’s no cap on how many it accepts on the basis of their asylum claim. The most common is made on the grounds that they face persecution in their home country should they be deported. Such cases are often hard if not impossible to evaluate.

As Ting points out, the incentive to lie is strong. If someone is in the United States illegally—either from entry without a visa or overstaying a valid visa— the success of his asylum claim may depend on his willingness to lie.

Asylum claims are currently ruled upon either by Homeland Security officers or by Department of Justice immigration judges in the course of deportation proceedings. If an applicant has no criminal record and if his story is deemed credible and convincing, his request for legal permanent residence in the United States is usually granted.

If lies were told in the application process, they are rarely uncovered even when the legal permanent resident becomes a U.S. citizen.

Ting points out that the extensive underground network to help asylum seekers is well developed. In the August 1 issue of New Yorker Magazine, an article titled “The Asylum Seeker” and written by Suketu Mehta gave the shocking details about how illegal immigrants educate themselves so they will sound credible during their interviews. Read NPR’s transcript in which author Mehta discusses his story with reporter Robert Seigel.

One example Mehta cited concerned an African woman who made the false claim of having been raped. In anticipation of intensive DHS questioning about the incident, she attended group-therapy session at a public hospital (with real victims) and received tax-payer funded anti-depression medication which she threw away.

Ting recommends that adjudication of asylum claims be transferred away from DHS and given back to the State Department which had the responsibility during the Reagan administration. Ting feels that under State Department control, adjudication claims would be handled by experienced, trusted diplomats who know the languages and customs of the countries involved.

With so much blatant, rampant fraud at play a bureaucratic change from DHS to State presents little risk.

As an example of how crazy the current system is consider the notorious case of West African Nafissatou Diallo, a New York hotel housekeeper who charged that Dominique Strauss-Kahn then the head of the International Monetary Fund and a potential French presidential candidate, raped her. Ironically, Diallo obtained legal U.S. status by alleging during her asylum application that she had been raped in her home country of Guinea.

While valid asylum claims should receive consideration, scam artists like Diallo must be kept out. More through oversight by the State Department is a step in the right direction.

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