Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act (H.R. 391).
Chairman Goodlatte: Many of the actions the Obama Administration took regarding immigration policy were based on a lack of respect for our nation’s immigration laws themselves, and represented abuses of the discretion provided to the Executive by the Constitution and Congress.
One of the immigration programs the last administration most abused was the U.S. asylum process. Word was out – simply get to the border, track down a border patrol agent, claim a fear of persecution if sent home, and you could enjoy years of freedom in the U.S. to legally work until you saw an immigration judge. Such an incentive resulted in a massive increase in foreign nationals seeking asylum in the U.S.
The U.S. does and should have asylum laws to grant relief to individuals who are truly persecuted. However, just as with any U.S. immigration program, fraud in the asylum process is pervasive. And since asylum fraud can be relatively easy to perpetrate, the asylum system is highly susceptible to it.
A claim for asylum is often based simply on the asylum seeker’s testimony. You can imagine how difficult it is for an asylum officer or an immigration judge to corroborate the testimony of an individual who claims fear of persecution on account of membership in a particular social group. The U.S. government simply does not have the resources or the ability to truly validate the actual veracity of each asylum seeker’s claim. Worse yet, in most cases, we actually forbid DHS from seeking evidence from the home country about the veracity of an applicant’s claims.
Since receipt of asylum status in the United States leads directly to U.S. citizenship, it is especially important that steps be taken to prevent fraud in, and abuse of, the system.
In December 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “granting asylum to an individual with a fraudulent claim jeopardizes the integrity of the asylum system by enabling the individual to remain in the United States, apply for certain federal benefits, and pursue a path to citizenship.” GAO went on to rightly note that “given the potential consequences of asylum decisions it is important that the asylum system is not misused.”
Admittedly, fraud in the asylum process is nothing new. As a former USCIS official testified before this Committee in 2014, a partially completed fraud assessment by the USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate found that in a random sampling of asylum cases pending before USCIS, 12% were determined to be fraudulent and 58% “exhibited possible indicators of fraud.”
And former Immigration Judge Andrew Arthur noted in his testimony before the Committee earlier this year that, “in recent years a number of immigration practitioners have been charged in high-profile” asylum fraud cases. For instance, in May 2016, a Chicago immigration attorney “was convicted by a federal jury of falsifying paperwork in a bid to help clients within asylum in the U.S.” Did DHS go back and review the prior asylum grants to the clients of such lawyers? Of course not.
Criminals and terrorists have abused the U.S. asylum system to both gain entry to the United States as well as to prevent their removal. Perhaps one of the most well-known such cases is that of Ramzi Yousef, who after entering the U.S. with a fake Iraqi passport, claimed asylum. While his case was pending, he helped plan and carry out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Over the years, Congress has recognized the need to strengthen asylum laws in order to prevent and deter fraud. The REAL ID Act of 2005 made several changes to the asylum process in an attempt to reduce fraud while ensuring that the system was fair to those truly in need. Twelve years later, the time has come for additional anti-fraud measures. H.R. 391, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2017, provides several important such measures.
I would like to thank our former colleague Jason Chaffetz for introducing this bill last Congress as well as again during this Congress, and for his leadership on the issue. And I thank our colleague Mike Johnson for taking this important immigration enforcement bill over as the chief sponsor.
The Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act is a much needed piece of legislation. I urge my colleagues to support it.
I yield back the balance of my time.