Audit finds asylum system rife with fraud; approval laws broken with surge of immigrants
By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
At least 70 percent of asylum applications showed signs of fraud, according to a secret 2009 internal government audit that found many of those cases had been approved anyway.
The 2009 fraud assessment, obtained by the House Judiciary Committee and reviewed by The Washington Times, suggests a system open to abuse and exploitation at a time when the number of people applying for asylum in the U.S. has skyrocketed, particularly along the southwestern border.
Another report obtained by the committee suggests that the government isn't detaining most of those who apply for asylum, including those awaiting a final judgment.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said the documents taint the credibility of the asylum system, which is designed to provide an outlet for foreigners who face real risks of being harmed if they remain in their home countries.
"Asylum fraud undermines the integrity of our immigration system and hurts U.S. taxpayers. Once individuals are granted asylum, they receive immediate access to all major federal welfare programs. Our immigration system should be generous to those persecuted around the globe, but we must also ensure our compassion isn't being abused by those seeking to game the system," Mr. Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement to The Times.
"Because our immigration laws are so loosely enforced by the Obama administration, we should not be surprised to see so much fraud in the system," he said. "President Obama's continued refusal to enforce our laws on the books encourages more illegal immigration and invites fraud."
The Homeland Security Department said its processes are dictated by law and that adjudicators at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that reviews the applications, have to follow set standards.
"A USCIS officer must find that a 'significant possibility' exists that the individual may be found eligible for asylum or withholding of removal. During the credible fear review, USCIS initiates a background check using immigration, national security and criminal databases," said Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for Homeland Security.
Final judgments are made by immigration judges, but those cases can take years to wind through the system — leaving the initial USCIS judgment in place.
The department says it continually updates its fraud prevention techniques.
The asylum system has long been a point of pride for the U.S., but also has sparked a feverish debate over just how generous the system should be and what sorts of checks the U.S. government should go through when trying to determine who qualifies.
Applicants are required to prove they face persecution back home — using what is known as a "credible fear" claim — and that they don't pose a danger to the U.S. They are held during that initial assessment but often are released after that.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced changes that would make it easier for those who had tangential involvement with terrorism to win asylum or refugee status.
Under existing law, those who provided "material support" to terrorists are to be denied their claims, but State Department and Homeland Security officials announced a new policy that said the support has to have been significant, and must have occurred outside of normal commercial transactions or family interactions.
Democrats on Capitol Hill hailed the changes, saying they will help particularly with Syrian refugees who are caught in a web of competing groups, some of whom have been designated terrorist agents by the U.S.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the old rules would block a Syrian who gave a sandwich to a Free Syrian Army soldier from getting refugee status, even though the U.S. is actively aiding the Free Syrian Army in its fight against the Syrian regime.
Refugees are those who make claims from their home countries, while asylum claims are made by those who arrive at or are already in the U.S.
The 2009 internal report, which looked at claims made in 2005, found extensive evidence of fraud.
Investigators said 12 percent of the cases they reviewed showed clear evidence of fraud. In some cases, adjudicators missed the evidence, and in other instances, the adjudicators weren't using tools available to the fraud investigators so they couldn't have known.
In 58 percent of cases, there were signals of fraud but not enough evidence to make a final determination. Some of those cases had been approved, and others were sent to a judge for final review.
The investigators said even the 70 percent combined fraud number may be low because some of the other 30 percent of cases had problems that weren't detected.
The report was labeled "Draft" and apparently was never released.
In another document obtained by the Judiciary Committee, the Homeland Security Department said it doesn't regularly detain those who make asylum claims. Mr. Goodlatte said that appears to contradict the law.
"All aliens who are determined to possess a credible fear of persecution and granted parole are released from ICE custody. If parole is subject to conditions, the conditions must be satisfied before parole will be granted," the department said in an official response to questions from Congress in December.
Mr. Goodlatte said the department must follow the law, which he said requires many of those to be detained while they are awaiting a ruling.
"These laws are in place to allow immigration authorities to expeditiously determine whether the individual in question is truly facing persecution or trying to game the system, and to prevent bad actors from being released into our communities," he said.
Last year, his committee obtained a document that indicated some drug cartel family members were using the asylum process on the southwestern border to gain a foothold in the U.S., then continued their trafficking activities.
But Mr. Boogaard, the Homeland Security spokesman, said it's been long-standing policy for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the agency that handles detention — to make determinations on a case-by-case basis.
"If an individual claiming asylum at the border is deemed to be a threat to public safety or national security, ICE has the authority to keep the individual in detention until their case is heard by an immigration judge. Only a judge can determine asylum eligibility," he said.
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