Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Republican lawmakers are suddenly very concerned with asylum fraud. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham is proceeding with a partisan asylum reform proposal because his discussions with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin are “going nowhere.” President Donald Trump believes current asylum laws are riddled with “loopholes” that allow illegitimate asylum-seekers to “abuse” the system. Thus, Graham wants to authorize the detention of asylum-seekers—including families and children—for longer periods, because of the “tsunami of people coming and gaming the system.” Graham’s legislation would require Central American immigrants to apply for asylum in their home countries or Mexico and extend current detention requirements. Some Republicans on the committee have sought an even more hard-line approach.
This suspicion of asylum-seekers flies in the face of the United States’ responsibility to uphold human rights. I was privileged to be part of the legal team in the 1987 Supreme Court precedent-setting asylum case INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca. Writing for the majority (which included Justice Antonin Scalia), Justice John Paul Stevens recognized the United States’ international humanitarian obligations to asylum-seekers by interpreting the law’s “well-founded fear of persecution” standard generously: “One can certainly have a well-founded fear of an event happening when there is less than a 50% chance of the occurrence taking place. … There is simply no room in the United Nations’ definition for concluding that because an applicant only has a 10% chance of being shot, tortured, or otherwise persecuted, that he or she has no ‘well-founded fear’ of the event happening.”