House Hearing on Asylum Reveals Rampant Fraud, More Abuse of Executive Discretion

By Jessica M. Vaughan on February 11, 2014

At a hearing Tuesday, witnesses told members of the House Judiciary committee that America's long-standing practice of granting political asylum to the persecuted is routinely and brazenly exploited by fraudulent applicants.

According to a USCIS document, "Asylum Benefit Fraud and Compliance Report", which the committee made public today (and which previously had been suppressed by USCIS leadership), only 30 percent of asylum cases from a random sample were confirmed to be fraud-free — meaning that 70 percent were proven to be fraudulent or had strong indicators of fraud.

Another report released by the committee, "Detained Asylum Seekers: FY2012 Report to Congress", shows that the Obama administration is releasing certain asylum seekers into the country while their claims are pending — in defiance of federal law, which provides for them to be detained. According to the report, some are lightly supervised, but many are not, and the government quickly loses track of some of those released. CIS research has shown that a large percentage of these individuals will never show up for their hearings and simply fade into the larger illegal alien population.

One of the witnesses, Don Crocetti, was the architect of the USCIS fraud assessment programs that were developed after 9/11, and he has described the programs and findings in a Center video interview. The auditors who investigated the sample of cases in the study were able to definitively establish fraud in 12 percent of the cases. In 58 percent of the cases, there were strong indicators of fraud, such as material inconsistencies or lies in the statements of the applicant, the applicant's story matched a pattern of other cases that were fraudulent, or the application was filed by a lawyer or notario that had been investigated for fraud.

Skeptical Democrats on the committee noted that the cases in the study were from 2005 and that surely improvements had been made since then. Crocetti testified that some improvements were made, but that much more could be done, such as expanding efforts to check claims overseas with the help of government colleagues in embassies abroad. Statements about membership in political groups or public dissent (or even employment) are often fabricated by applicants and hard to verify from here, according to the report. They cannot be explored adequately in the asylum interviews, which last an average of 20 minutes. Crocetti stated that USCIS has devoted little attention to fraud in the last few years and no longer conducts audits to determine fraud rates in any categories.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) cited statistics showing that asylum approvals have risen significantly since 2007. "Affirmative" claims of asylum (where applicants request asylum proactively soon after arrival, as opposed to making a "defensive" claim after they have been apprehended by an immigration officer) were approved by USCIS asylum officers 28 percent of the time in 2007 and 46 percent of the time in 2012. Those not approved by USCIS are referred to immigration judges for a second bite at the apple. The judges approved 51 percent of cases in 2007 and 72 percent in 2012.

Asylum applications are definitely on the rise. The report on detained asylum seekers states that there were 68,785 applicants in 2012; the corresponding number from 2009 is 47,307, an increase of 45 percent.

Asylum applicants in 2012 came from 162 countries. The largest numbers by far were from Central America, Mexico, and China, but our generous system also attracted applicants from France, Italy, Barbados, Canada, and Japan. While Democratic members invoked the need to offer a haven for asylees from Syria, in fact there were more applicants in 2012 from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil than there were from Syria.

CIS Board member Jan Ting, a law professor at Temple University and former top INS official, cited several well-known and some lesser-known cases of asylum fraud, and pointed out the huge incentives that for asylum seekers to lie to obtain green cards and eventually citizenship. He suggested a number of steps Congress could take to tighten the system, including greater involvement of State Department experts on country conditions and amending the sections of the law that have been exploited both by fraudulent asylum seekers and the Obama administration to facilitate the entry of aliens who would not otherwise qualify under the law.

Former senior immigration official Hipolito Acosta, who over the course of his career investigated major human smuggling conspiracies originating all over the globe, testified that these organized criminal enterprises follow our immigration policies and processes carefully so that they can exploit weaknesses. He noted how the recent large influxes of asylum seekers into Texas was entirely predictable given newly implemented policies that result in the quick release of illegal aliens from detention, the offer of final asylum hearings many years into the future, and the grant of work permits and access to other public benefits while the alien awaits a hearing.

Acosta told the story of how 30 years ago he arrested a Mexican cartel leader who had claimed political asylum in the United States. Decades later, this man's sons also were arrested for their involvement in running cartel operations in Chicago. Acosta will discuss his experiences in fighting human smuggling organizations in a forthcoming CIS video interview.

On a related note, I was interviewed by Fox News Monday night about the possible connection of asylum fraud to the family of the Boston Marathon bombers, who received political asylum. Friends and family of the Tsarnaevs have expressed disbelief that the family faced actual persecution in their homeland.