Getting Political Asylum Right

Article excerpt


Last week the House passed the REAL ID Act, including provisions dealing with key aspects of U.S. asylum law. With the Senate poised to take a hard look at the bill, it is important to reiterate that the bill does not abrogate political asylum. Rather, the bill seeks a narrow reform of our asylum procedures specifically aimed at ensuring all courts better scrutinize asylum claims. The result will be a stronger, more cohesive political asylum system more likely to validate legitimate claims and invalidate fraudulent or terrorist ones.

One underlying premise of the REAL ID Act is based on the September 11 Commission's conclusion that terrorists are well studied in the many ways to get in and stay in the United States, and one of the most effective is to claim political asylum. It is so effective because often the only information available to a judge is the word of the applicant without corroborating evidence. Asylum is also effective because it can be claimed upon entry, for example, when proper documentation is lacking or when placed in a deportation hearing after a prior immigration violation. Either way, political asylum claims usually permit terrorists to do what they seek: buy time to live here freely. Here are a few examples of terrorists' political asylum claims:

* Nuradin Adbi, indicted in June 2004 for the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Columbus, Ohio, shopping mall, applied for and received asylum in 1999.

* Hesham Hedayet, who killed airline personnel at LAX on July 4, 2002, filed for political asylum in 1992 but ended up acquiring legal status through a diversity immigration lottery.

* At least three people closely associated with the September 11 hijackers claimed political asylum.

* Abdel Hakim Tizegha, an associate of the LAX Millennium plotters, claimed political asylum based on persecution by Muslim fundamentalists. He said he entered at Boston as a stowaway on an Algerian gas tanker. Hearings were rescheduled five times. The claim was denied two years later, and then appealed. Nine months later his location was unknown.

* Abu Mezer, responsible for the New York City subway plot in August 1997, was arrested in Washington state in January 1997 after his third attempt to illegally enter the United States. The next month, he applied for political asylum, denying an affiliation with Hamas. In July, he did not show up for his hearing. Instead, he called his attorney and stated he had married a U.S. citizen and was living in Canada. On Aug. 1, 1997, he was arrested in New York City based on an informant's tip.

* Three terrorists involved in the Feb. 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Biblal Alkaisi, all sought political asylum. …