Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Asylum and Justice

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Asylum and Justice

Article excerpt

Individuals asking for asylum represent a small portion of the millions of people seeking entry to the United States each year. But their petitions, and their subsequent treatment, present a very large moral issue for the country.

This is, after all, a country that champions human rights and abhors the oppression asylum seekers are fleeing. So when charges arise of unfair or inconsistent treatment of such people, Americans should be concerned. Such charges have multiplied since a new law went into effect in April 1997.

The law speeds up the process of assessing the validity of asylum claims - particularly those made by people just arriving, often without correct documentation. When such individuals make their desire for asylum known, they are interviewed by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers specially trained to weigh asylum claims. These officers can grant asylum or deny it. If they deny it, however, individuals are referred to an immigration court for further resolution of their claims.

The INS is quick to point out that its officers don't have the authority to deport people they suspect of making false asylum claims. That power rests with immigration courts and judges, part of a separate branch of the Justice Department, the Executive Office of Immigration Review.

But the INS asylum officers do have enhanced responsibilities under the 1997 law. They make the initial judgment on whether claims are real or fraudulent, and thus have a large role in determining how asylum seekers are treated in the US. The quality of their training to assess the psychological and physical evidence of torture or other mistreatment is critical.

The INS is committed to thorough preparation of these officers. But there are hundreds of them at various points of entry to the US. Their workloads can be heavy - on top of the already daunting task of determining people's future. …

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