Political Asylum: The Achilles' Heel of Immigration Control

By Simcox, David | USA TODAY, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Political Asylum: The Achilles' Heel of Immigration Control


Simcox, David, USA TODAY


Immigration of 1,100,000 persons a year perpetuates population growth and dims prospects for a smaller, environmentally sustainable U.S. population. Since the 1970s, the vast majority of Americans have voted by their fertility rates to stabilize population, but immigration has nullified their choice. Humanitarian immigration - refugees, people seeking asylum, and temporarily protected persons - has swollen to more than 25% of all immigration. Often driven by emotional impulse and perceived national obligations and unlimited by law, humanitarian intake has escaped rational management.

Political asylum is the most idealistic, uncontrollable, and poorly managed of all features of the nation's convoluted immigration rules. As envisioned in the 1980 Refugee Act, asylum offers safe haven to persons already in the U.S. or at a port of entry who can show a well-founded fear of persecution in their countries for reasons of race, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, or associations.

The criterion of persecution is the same for asylum seekers here and refugees abroad. However, a key practical distinction between refugees and asylees under present arrangements is that the U.S. chooses from abroad the refugees it will resettle; with political asylum, the U.S. passively allows itself to be chosen by hundreds of thousands of international migrants, many driven by motives other than refuge.

As now applied, asylum laws proclaim to the globe's 5,500,000,000 non-Americans that, if they somehow can enter the U.S. and claim persecution within their homelands, they will be able to live and work here for many months, if not years, during the slow-paced adjudication of their claims. An attraction not lost on millions abroad is that, even among those ultimately denied asylum, few are removed from the U.S.

In 1992 alone, 45% of asylum claimants failed to appear for their initial hearing. They simply took the work authorization card granted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and disappeared into American society. Others go through the hearings process, but drop out of sight if asylum is denied. The government now has neither the means nor the will to track them down. Other applicants acquire U.S. spouses and citizen children during the lengthy process, making their removal harder. Small wonder then that the system has become an enormous magnet for hundreds of thousands of would-be settlers who can not qualify under regular immigration rules or are unwilling to wait in line for a visa.

The asylum system is subverted by interest groups, skillful manipulation, often uninformed compassion among Americans, and the extreme and unworkable definition of "due process" that asylum's advocates have fastened upon it. An article of faith among immigration advocates is that there never can be too much due process. An allied assumption is that better thousands of spurious claimants receive asylum than one bona fide claimant be denied it.

Thus, the system sets itself up to be manipulated by hundreds of thousands. The asylum applicant enjoys far more due process than is required by international obligations or the Constitution. Prospective refugees abroad have far fewer rights. Court decisions, unchallenged by the executive branch, have expanded the definition of persecution and further reduced the evidentiary burden on the asylum claimant. A history of inconsistent policies, capitulations to interest-group demands, and unfounded presumptions have created grounds for expansive rulings in the Federal courts.

The scope of asylum's protection has been extended to new allegedly persecuted classes: homosexuals; women in male-dominated societies, victims of spousal abuse, or those who are from societies where female circumcision is practiced; and persons claiming to flee China's family limitation laws. Efforts to protect more and more victim classes are driven as often by domestic political wrangling over issues such as women's and gay rights, or right to life, as they are humanitarian reactions to events abroad. …

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