We live in a time of unprecedented global migrations of people
in search of security and survival. In 1976, the United Nations
estimated there were 2.8 million refugees worldwide. Today, that
estimate has reached 19 million. Famine, war and international
trade and development policies - many designed to keep Third World
resources cheap for the benefit of First World consumers - have
combined to cause a global human crisis on the move.
A small percentage of these people find their way to the United
States and request political asylum. They claim to fear persecution
in their homeland due to race, religion, nationality, political
opinion or membership in a persecuted group. Unfortunately, it is
now politically popular to blame these asylum seekers for many of
our social and economic woes.
To make matters worse, asylum policy itself is adrift having
lost the moorings the Cold War provided. When we could simply
identified persecution with communism it was easier to determine
when and where it existed.
Prompted by strong anti-immigrant sentiment and the internal
policy confusion, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has
proposed new regulations to govern U.S. asylum procedures.
New regulations are desperately needed. The asylum process in
the United States is chronically dysfunctional. A backlog of
370,000 asylum applications keeps approximately 1 million people in
psychological and economic limbo. In the St. Louis area, the
majority of asylum applications filed since 1989 have never been
decided. Permission to work is granted for six months to a year
with extensive delays in obtaining renewals and a $60 fee for each
renewal. Applicants, their spouses and children must put their
lives on hold, unable to set down roots, yet fearing to return home.
There are two differing analysis as to the cause of the
system's breakdown. One asserts it is the result of wide-spread
abuse of asylum procedures by people filing frivolous claims. Such
applicants only want to buy time in the United States to work. They
apply and then slip, unnoticed, into American society.
A second analysis suggests the asylum system was never
sufficiently funded or adequately staffed by trained hearing
officers who could consistently apply asylum law. Congress sought
to achieve an evenhanded process in which each asylum case would be
on its merits. But social class, cultural factors and political
considerations took precedence over legal standards and created
The system's breakdown probably resulted from a combination of
these factors, but a question of emphasis remains. The proposed
asylum regulations clearly emphasize the
"people-taking-advantage-of-the-system" analysis, regardless of the
fact that governmental and private studies show this is not the
core problem. Even INS' own statistics show only a 7 percent filing
rate of "manifestly unfounded" asylum applications. …