nytimes.com, July 12, 2011
Because claims are so hard to prove, asylum will always be one of the most fraud-ridden parts of the immigration system. Limiting such fraud is especially important because asylum represents a surrender of a portion of our sovereignty, since foreigners can sneak into our country illegally and demand asylum, and if they qualify we are bound by international law to let them stay.
Reforms in the mid-90s tightened the asylum system significantly, but much work remains. Perhaps the most important change would be to expand the concept of a "safe third country." This principle, widely used elsewhere, holds that a foreigner should not even be allowed to apply for asylum if he has passed through another country where he could have applied first.
Asylum, after all, is like a life preserver thrown to a drowning man: if you're really drowning, you don't pick and choose among lifeboats, and if you do pick and choose, you're not really drowning. The 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees implicitly requires such a policy, when it says that illegal immigrants seeking asylum may not be penalized if they are "coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened."
This would mean that no one traveling from Canada (where we already have a limited arrangement like this) or through a European airport would be permitted to apply for asylum -- their claims may indeed be genuine, but they were bound to make them at the first available opportunity. Likewise, those crossing our southern border illegally would be precluded from applying, especially since the January enactment of a new refugee law bringing Mexico up to international standards.
Asylum would still be available to those coming directly from persecutor countries like, say, Saudi Arabia, or students stranded by a coup back home. But by narrowing the focus of the system, we can more easily cope with the lies and fraud that are an inevitable part of asylum adjudication.