Though over 100,000 people claimed asylum in the United States in 2014, the federal government only has “limited capabilities to detect asylum fraud,” according to a new government audit.
About 4,500 people claimed asylum with the assistance of lawyers and application preparers who were later convicted of fraud, the Government Accountability Office’s audit found. “Granting asylum to an individual with a fraudulent claim jeopardizes the integrity of the asylum system by enabling the individual to remain in the United States, apply for certain federal benefits, and pursue a path to citizenship,” the report says. “Given the potential consequences of asylum decisions, it is important that the asylum system is not misused.”
The number of asylum claims has doubled since 2010, a statistic that surely will stoke questions about whether President Obama’s immigration policies are a “magnet” for people who try to enter the country illegally. The report also feeds into an ongoing debate about whether the federal government has the capability to ensure that terrorists can’t take advantage of refugee programs to enter the United States.
There were over 108,000 asylum claims filed in fiscal year 2014, up from about 47,000 in fiscal year 2010, and the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services have struggled to keep up with the surge in paperwork. They currently face a backlog of 106,121 applicants.
The agency is hiring more staff to address the pile-up, but House Republicans want broader legislative reform along the lines of a plan passed by the House Judiciary Committee in March.
“We already know that there is proven or possible fraud in up to 70 percent of asylum applications, yet the administration hasn’t implemented procedures to identify and prevent fraud in the system,” said Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte in a Wednesday statement.
#share#The GAO report also noted the potential national-security risks posed by fraudulent asylum claims, but emphasized the need to approve legitimate claims in a timely manner. “It is important that the asylum system is not misused,” the audit says. “This protects the integrity of the legal immigration process and avoids the potentially serious consequences that could result if an applicant is wrongfully returned to his or her country of persecution or if an applicant whose asylum claim is fraudulent or who poses a threat to the United States is permitted to stay.”
EDITORIAL: Stopping the Flow of Illegal Immigrants
Despite the potential for fraud, it is “not common” for asylum status to be revoked. Only 374 people who submitted fraudulent claims lost their asylum status between 2010 and 2014, even as 76,000 people were granted asylum overall. What’s more, the GAO notes that “the number of USCIS asylum terminations for fraud has decreased in recent years, from 103 in fiscal year 2010 to 34 in fiscal year 2014.”
There’s a variety of reasons for such low figures, including lack of resources to devote to terminating fraudulent claims and legal decisions that have restricted the government’s ability to revoke asylum status. U.S. attorneys have “low interest” in pursuing most cases; the GAO report records a 2009 case in which Homeland Security investigators “requested that the asylum office stop sending it information” about an asylum-fraud ring. The case was eventually taken up by the FBI.
#related#President Obama’s spate of executive orders on immigration also discourage such probes, federal officials told GAO. “Asylum Division officials stated that individuals who lose their asylum status because of fraud generally would not fit within the Secretary of Homeland Security’s enforcement priorities, making the likelihood very low that they would be removed from the United States after their asylum status has been terminated,” the report says. “DHS’s enforcement and removal priorities focus on the removal of aliens who pose a threat to national security, border security, and public safety.”
Goodlatte cited the report as part of a broader critique of Obama’s immigration policies. “This new GAO report adds to mounting evidence that the Obama Administration refuses to take the steps necessary to crack down on asylum fraud and protect the integrity of our immigration system,” he said. “The effective rubber-stamping of asylum applications is one of the root causes of the ongoing border surge and it also carries with it serious national-security concerns.”
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.