Texas Rep. Michael Cloud (R) falsely stated that few asylum seekers have legitimate claims of political persecution, and that their cases should therefore merit only a very brief evaluation lasting 30 minutes to two hours maximum.
The House Freedom Caucus member combined debunked statistics and a misunderstanding of what makes people eligible for asylum in a Fox News interview on Wednesday morning.
“Eighty percent, 90% are not true asylum cases,” Cloud claimed. “The whole point of asylum is fleeing political persecution. We have compassion for those people looking for a better life. [But] that is not what asylum laws are for.”
The 80% number appears to be a reference to a debunked argument by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Based on 2017 immigration court statistics that showed 20.22% of asylum claims were approved that year, Sessions deduced that this meant about 80% were without “merit.”
As PolitiFact noted last July, immigration experts agreed that there were many reasons why those other cases were not granted other than just lack of merit. In 2016, about 28% of asylum cases were approved.
Moreover, Cloud’s claim this week that asylum is only for those fleeing “political persecution” is flat-out wrong. According to the Trump administration’s own U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) webpage, “political opinion” is just one of five categories for asylum. Applicants need only show that they have suffered persecution or have legitimate reason to fear that they will suffer persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Cloud took his argument a step further on Wednesday, suggesting that since so few cases have merit, their cases should be quickly disposed of by border agents. He said he had written to the Trump administration to urge officials to train Border Patrol agents to be immigration judges “so that that processes isn’t a two- or three-year process, but rather it’s more of a 30 minute, couple of hour process.”
Cloud has previously railed against the House Democratic majority for “rushing bills through” without 72 hours of consideration.
The Texas congressman’s official biography describes him as a “longtime defender of American values” and notes that he is himself married to a “naturalized citizen.” In a Roll Call profile last September, he said his wife emigrated from Mexico on a fiancee visa and complained that, since agents had never seen one before, the couple “were at the border for two hours.”
“That was just the beginning of a many year process of going through immigration,” he told the publication. “I think once we get into these policy discussions, I’ll be able to bring in a human side to it.”