End the Asylum Regime

By Mark Krikorian on November 22, 2023

National Review, November 22, 2023

The State Department this week placed visa restrictions on charter-flight companies that have been flying people from Haiti to Nicaragua to get them started on their journey to illegally cross the U.S. border. (Nicaragua doesn’t require them to get visas.) This comes after Haiti banned such flights, but Haitians are still taking them from neighboring countries.

This is an attempt by the leftist Ortega government in Nicaragua to weaponize migration, accelerating the flow of illegal aliens to the U.S. as blackmail leverage to try to get us to loosen sanctions.

Even though the immediate cause of the border crisis is the Biden administration’s abandonment of Trump policies, the ultimate cause is the post–World War II refugee/asylum regime itself. Asylum law has become a threat not just to the U.S. but to all developed countries whose prosperity and orderliness are magnets to migrants from the third world, who often use bogus claims of persecution as a gambit to gain access.

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom rejected the government’s plan to send illegal-alien “asylum-seekers” arriving by boat across the English Channel to Rwanda to apply for asylum there. This is different from the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, which still permitted border-jumpers to apply for U.S. asylum but required them to await their hearing dates on the Mexican side of the border so that they wouldn’t disappear into the U.S.

The U.K. plan builds on programs or proposals in Australia, Israel, and Denmark and would altogether prohibit certain illegals from applying for asylum in the U.K. But rather than deport them to their home countries, where they claim to fear persecution, it would send them to another country where they can seek asylum — after all, if they truly fear persecution, wouldn’t safety in Rwanda be preferable?

British prime minister Rishi Sunak has said that he’s going to force through the plan anyway, though many members of his own party are opposed.

However that works out in the U.K., it’s becoming increasingly clear that the asylum system established in 1951 by the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is a threat to the sovereignty, even the existence, of nations that abide by it. In the first few decades after WWII, asylum was a trivial issue, applying only to a handful of people who had managed to escape the Soviet empire. But with the collapse of the USSR, massive population growth in the third world (most of whose people could make some kind of plausible claim to asylum), and advances in transportation and communication, it has become imperative to revisit asylum policy.

As the president of Finland recently put it, “Deportation of migrants who don’t meet the criteria for asylum has become impossible, so entering the border means you stay in that country if you want to.” This is why Trump’s Remain in Mexico plan and its safe-third-country agreements with Central American countries, the U.K.’s “remain in Rwanda” plan (my name for it), and Italy’s plan to build detention centers in Albania are all half measures, patches that are useful but don’t get at the underlying problem.

It is long past time to withdraw from the U.N. refugee treaty and prohibit illegal aliens, as a matter of policy, from applying for asylum. In short, asylum delenda est. Any attempts to tighten the current judicialized asylum system will always be vulnerable to lawyers and judges intent on debating how many refugees can dance on the head of a pin, resulting in the kind of huge backlogs we see in our asylum system today, which allow “asylum-seekers” years to live and work (and have children) here. Even a restriction such as the current requirement in U.S. law that asylum applicants be detained during the entire course of their proceedings is vulnerable to an administration, like the current one, that simply disregards it and releases illegal aliens by the millions.

But deleting asylum from the U.S. Code will still leave some illegal aliens from countries to which we don’t want to repatriate them or that simply refuse to take their citizens back. That’s why something like the “remain in Rwanda” approach (or maybe “remain in Paraguay” or “remain in Mongolia”) will always be needed. With enough carrots and sticks, we would always be able to find countries that agree to take illegal aliens claiming to be fleeing persecution — a number that would be much smaller than the ones we’re now seeing on our southern border and on Europe’s borders, because a bogus asylum claim would no longer be an entry ticket to the developed world.