GAO Warns of Flaws in the U.S. Asylum System

December 4, 2015

Submitted by:  Veronica Coffin

Written by:  Brittany M. Hughes


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report Wednesday informing Congress that the Obama administration’s immigration agencies “have limited capabilities to detect asylum fraud,” and warning against a flawed system in which “an applicant whose asylum claim is fraudulent or who poses a threat to the United States is permitted to stay.”

By law, asylum is supposed to be a somewhat rare and unique immigration status to obtain, and can only be based on “past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

But despite the narrow definition of the asylum status, there seem to be a lot of people counting on President Obama’s administration to grant it to them. The GAO explained the number of asylum applications more than doubled between fiscal years 2010 (47,118 applications) and 2014 (108,152 applications). Due to the massive increase in applications, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services currently has a backlog of 106,121 pending asylum requests.

Additionally, the GAO report suggests the agencies have not conducted proper risk assessments:

USCIS and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) have limited capabilities to detect asylum fraud. First, while both USCIS and EOIR have mechanisms to investigate fraud in individual applications, neither agency has assessed fraud risks across the asylum process, in accordance with leading practices for managing fraud risks. Various cases of fraud illustrate risks that may affect the integrity of the asylum system.

In its report, the GAO pointed to a case out of New York in which 30 people, primarily immigration attorneys and their associates, were charged with crimesrelated to immigration fraud in 2014. The GAO also found that nearly 5,000 people who received legal immigration assistance from the attorneys had received asylum from either U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), despite many of their claims having been false.

The oversight agency added:

Without regular assessments of fraud risks, USCIS and EOIR lack reasonable assurance that they have implemented controls to mitigate those risks.

While not having a reliable system in place to detect asylum fraud, the GAO noted that USCIS terminated the asylum status of only 374 people from fiscal years 2010-14 for fraud reasons. While an asylee’s case is pending termination, that person is still eligible for certain federal benefits, GAO added. An initial review of a person’s asylum status can take up to 180 days.

Asylum decisions can have serious consequences. Granting asylum to an applicant with a genuine claim protects the asylee from being returned to a country where he or she has been or could in the future be persecuted. On the other hand, granting asylum to an individual with a fraudulent claim jeopardizes the integrity of the asylum system by enabling the individual to remain in the United States, apply for certain federal benefits, and pursue a path to citizenship.

Given the potential consequences of asylum decisions, it is important that the asylum system is not misused. This protects the integrity of the legal immigration process and avoids the potentially serious consequences that could result if an applicant is wrongfully returned to his or her country of persecution or if an applicant whose asylum claim is fraudulent or who poses a threat to the United States is permitted to stay.



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