Washington, D.C. — Since President Obama has refused to take actions to stop illegal crossings at our southern border, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today introduced a bill to stop the surge of children, teenagers, and families from Central America seeking to enter the United States illegally. The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act (H.R. 5137) ends many of the Obama Administration’s policies that encourage Central Americans to come to the United States, such as weak standards for asylum claims that enable the Administration’s rubberstamping of fraudulent applications and policies that prevent Border Patrol agents from accessing federal lands along the border. Additionally, the bill makes targeted changes to current law, which has worsened the crisis at the border.
Congressman Chaffetz and Chairman Goodlatte released the statements below on the introduction of the bill.
Congressman Chaffetz: “Immediate actions are required to address the recent surge of unaccompanied children and teenagers crossing the border. The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act not only deals with the crisis at hand, but implements important policy changes moving forward. By sending additional judges, attorneys, and other resources to the border we can ensure that these children are processed, reunited with their families, and sent home as swiftly as possible.
“Additionally, this bill makes long needed changes to the asylum process. Too many are finding ways to game the system. By strengthening standards for those who claim ‘credible fear’ we can expedite the removal process. We must deal with this crisis in both a humane and realistic manner. This legislation does both.”
Chairman Goodlatte: “President Obama’s lax immigration enforcement and administrative legalization programs have encouraged tens of thousands of Central Americans to make the dangerous journey to the United States with the hope of benefiting from the situation. Obama Administration officials claim that violence is the root cause of this surge but an internal Department of Homeland Security memo shows that 95% of those arriving at our border are coming because they think they will get a free pass to stay. And law enforcement agents on the ground say that the majority of these minors are seeking to join up with a family member who is already in the U.S. illegally. This crisis is a disaster of President Obama’s own making and threatens both national security and the rule of law.
“Although President Obama has many tools at his disposal to stop this surge at the border, he refuses to use them. Since President Obama won’t take actions to quell this activity, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act stops many of the Administration’s policies that have caused this crisis, such as exploiting weak asylum standards to approve baseless claims and stringent environmental policies that prevent Border Patrol agents from doing their job of securing the border. Additionally, the bill reforms current law to make sure we get these unaccompanied minors home safely and quickly. We must swiftly take action to end this crisis—children’s lives are at stake, and so is the integrity of our immigration system.”
Original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).
Key components of the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act:
• Fast-tracks the removal of unaccompanied alien minors: Under the bill, all unaccompanied alien minors will be placed in expedited removal proceedings so they can be almost immediately returned home, unless they have a legitimate credible fear of persecution in their home country. Under current law, the Department of Homeland Security is unable to put Central American minors in expedited removal proceedings. As a result, they are released into our communities and are told to appear before an immigration judge years later. Many of them never show up for their hearing.
• Makes sure minors are returned home safely: The bill provides that the Secretary of State shall negotiate agreements with other countries regarding the safe repatriation of minors, just as the Secretary does now for countries contiguous to the U.S.
• Implements tougher standards for “credible fear” claims: In order to evade expedited removal proceedings, family units caught along the border or at ports of entry often claim a “credible fear” of persecution in their home countries and seek a hearing before an immigration judge. While awaiting the hearing, they are released into the U.S. and receive work authorization while their case is pending. The Obama Administration granted approximately 92% of all “credible fear” cases decided on the merits in Fiscal Year 2013, many of which were fraudulent and baseless. In fact, “credible fear” claims have increased 586% from 2007 to 2013 as word has spread about the rubberstamping of applications. The bill tightens the “credible fear” standard to weed out baseless claims. It also tightens the standard for release from detention under parole authority so that the Obama Administration doesn’t automatically release them before their claims are proved legitimate.
• Cracks down on asylum fraud: Under the bill, unaccompanied alien minors will not have preferred access to asylum that is not available to others. To reduce fraud, they are required to apply for asylum within a year of entry into the U.S. and are placed in removal proceedings.
• Protects our communities from gang members: The bill makes members of violent criminal gangs inadmissible to the United States and ineligible for asylum so that unaccompanied alien minor gang members can be more easily removed.
• Gives Border Patrol access to federal lands: Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector cite restrictions that bar access to federal lands as a significant stumbling block to securing the border. The Departments of Interior and Agriculture currently have rules that prevent Border Patrol agents from accessing federal lands near the border under the guise of environmental preservation. As a result, federal lands along the border provide drug traffickers, human smugglers, and unlawful immigrants effective routes and hiding places where Border Patrol agents cannot reach them. The bill contains language from Rep. Rob Bishop’s legislation to stop this foolish policy and give Border Patrol access to federal lands along the border.
• Protects American taxpayers: The Obama Administration wants American taxpayers to foot the bill for lawyers for unaccompanied alien minors in removal proceedings. While the law currently prohibits taxpayer dollars being used to pay for lawyers for unlawful immigrants, the bill makes this prohibition even more explicit to stop the Administration’s plan.
• Provides additional immigration judges and ICE prosecutors: The bill provides a temporary allotment of immigration judges and ICE prosecutors in order to deal with the surge at the border.