Many in U.S. Concerned over Immigration Clinton Bill Seeks to Speed Handling of Asylum Seekers

By Susan Hegger Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 5, 1993 | Go to article overview

Many in U.S. Concerned over Immigration Clinton Bill Seeks to Speed Handling of Asylum Seekers


Susan Hegger Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


IF MANY Americans had their way, the Statue of Liberty would be holding a "no vacancy" sign instead of a torch. Opinion polls repeatedly show that the public believes that this country has too many immigrants.

In July, a Newsweek poll found that 60 percent thought that immigration is a bad thing for the country today while 76 percent of those questioned in a CNN/USA Today poll said that immigration should be stopped or reduced until the economy improves.

"The American people want a sense that there are limits and that immigration policy isn't set by a poem - a lovely poem but one never voted on," said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that supports capping legal immigration at 300,000 a year.

Many experts say that the real problem isn't immigration per se; it's illegal immigration and the sense that the country has lost control over its the borders. Getting a handle on illegal immigration, they say, would go a long way to calm the public's fears.

"The American people want to know that someone is minding the store," said Demetrios Papademetriou, a specialist on immigration at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They want responsible stewardship."

That sense of control and purpose is what President Bill Clinton tried to convey when he announced his proposed legislation on illegal immigration this summer. "The simple fact is that we must not and cannot surrender our borders to those who wish to exploit our history of compassion and justice. . . .We must say no to illegal immigration so that we can continue to say yes to legal immigration. . . .We will make it tougher for illegal aliens to get into our country."

But whether the president's bill, sponsored in the Senate by Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and introduced in the House by Ron Mazzoli, D-Ky., will achieve those aims is open to fierce debate.

Clinton's initiative is, in fact, a relatively modest proposal that is focused very narrowly - on asylum seekers who arrive at airports or other ports of entry with false or destroyed documents, an estimated 15,000 people a year.

The bill would expedite the process by which these asylum cases are decided: An asylum officer on site would review an individual's claim and determine whether that individual had a "credible fear" of prosecution. If the claim were credible, the person would be admitted and allowed to pursue asylum. If the claim appeared frivolous, the individual would be deported.

The bill permits a senior asylum officer to review a controversial decision, but it eliminates the prospect of taking the matter to court.

Even though the bill is narrowly drawn, it still compromises fundamental safeguards, said Lucas Guttentag, director of the Immigrants' Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Association.

The expedited process "precludes the federal courts from reviewing any determination," said Guttentag. "The only possible motivation for such a proposal must be the administration's fear that judicial oversight will expose bias, discrimination and incompetence."

Guttentag is not mollified by the protection of an administrative review by a senior asylum officer.

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Many in U.S. Concerned over Immigration Clinton Bill Seeks to Speed Handling of Asylum Seekers
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