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As Asylum Claims Spike, Immigration Opponents Cry Fraud

By Esther Yu-Hsi Lee

"As Asylum Claims Spike, Immigration Opponents Cry Fraud"

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The number of asylum applicants are at the highest level in two decades and triple the number of claims from 2012, according to data released by the Congressional Research Service on Thursday. In the fiscal 2013 year ending in September, at least 36,026 immigrants have expressed credible fear — a preliminary step in determining asylum — stating that they would like to remain in the U.S. because going back to their countries of origin would put them in harm’s way.

United States Customs and Immigration Services approved 30,393 immigrants in 2013 for credible fear claims.

Applicants must apply for asylum within US borders, including port-of-entries like airports, seaports, or border crossings. But applicants are not guaranteed parole and may end up in a detention system while waiting for their asylum cases to be heard by a judge. They must also undergo a criminal background check. If an asylum claim is denied, the immigrant applicant can be deported. If approved, applicants will still have to provide evidence of a “much higher standard than credible fear.”

During a House Judiciary Committee held last Thursday, Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), and Trey Gowdy (R-SC) reasoned that because there is a rise in claims, that immigrants must also be abusing the asylum system.

Chaffetz claimed that drug cartels are using credible fear claims to smuggle drugs into the United States. He also said, “these credible-fear claimants almost always get approved and are released into our communities … when their asylum claims are ultimately denied, they simply add to the fugitive population in the U.S.”

The statistics show that most applicants are not approved. In the fiscal 2012 year, 44,170 asylum cases were received, but only 11,978 were granted. And officials are especially hard-pressed to grant asylum requests to Mexican citizens — 91 percent are denied.

The CRS report does not provide a reason for the spike in applicants, but Ruth Wasem, a CRS immigration policy specialist, said that the increase in credible fear claims “alone does not signify an abuse of the claims.”

In assuming that the spike of credible fear claims is attributable to fraud, the immigration opponents fail to consider a host of reasons why applications would be up in Latin America, particularly from drug cartel violence. Drug-related violence has led to the deaths of more than 60,000 people in Mexico since 2006. And in El Salvadora, rival gangs contributed to at least five murders a day.

In recent months, a double-amputee asylee biked 670 miles as a way to show that Mexicans are not “abusing the system” — drug cartel members chopped both of Carlos Gutierrez’s feet off after they were unable to extort $10,000 a month from him.

No more than ten percent of people apprehended by Border Patrol seek asylum. In the first half of August 2013, about 30 people sought asylum at the San Diego ports every day (an average of 170,000 people legally crossed the border there daily). And while the uptick in claims has generally come from immigrants who do not want to be sent back to Central American countries, in 2012, the top three leading countries of persons granted asylum come from China, Egypt, and Ethiopia.

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