Sunday, February 23, 2014
The New York Times yesterday published an article ("Asylum Fraud in Chinatown: Industry of Lies") about alleged asylum abuse in the Chinese immigrant community in New York. Take caution in reading too much into the story. While there unquestionably is some abuse of the system (which no doubt is not limited to the Chinese immigrant community), it is unclear how widespread such abuse is and far from clear that reforms would not result in the denial of many bona fide asylum claims. Recall that previous concerns with so-called asylum abuse led to controversial measures such as expedited removal, limitations on work authorization, and other restrictions on asylum claims (such as in the REAL ID Act of 2005).
The article also relied on the high rate of denials of Chinese asylum claims in New York as supporting the claim that abuse is rampant there:
"Though the prevalence of fraud is unknown, federal officials appear to regard the applicant pool in New York with considerable suspicion. In fiscal year 2013, asylum officers around the country granted 40 percent of all Chinese asylum requests, according to government data. In New York City, asylum officers approved only 15 percent."
However, Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication and Proposals for Reform by Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Philip G. Schrag offers a plausible alternative explanation for the differential rate of denials. In order to be granted asylum, an applicant must prove to an asylum officer or immigration judge that she has a well-founded fear of persecution in her homeland. The chance of winning asylum should have little if anything to do with the personality of the official to whom a case is randomly assigned, but Refugee Roulette in its study shows that life-or-death asylum decisions are too frequently influenced by random factors relating to the decision makers. In many cases, the most important moment in an asylum case is the instant in which a clerk randomly assigns the application to an adjudicator. The system, in its current state, is like a game of chance.
Claims of asylum abuse frequently grab the attention of the media and policymakers. Last December, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “Asylum Abuse: Is It Overwhelming Our Borders?” The Committee Chair, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), was concerned that rising numbers of claims of persecution at the U.S.-Mexico border indicated rising fraud and abuse. Yet testimony by U.S. government and independent witnesses did not support an epidemic of fraud and abuse. Rather, it indicated an increase in “credible fear” of persecution claims from countries experiencing heavy violence. Click here to read more about the hearings.