America’s Insane Asylum Policy Threatens National Security

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America’s Insane Asylum Policy Threatens National Security

An NPG Forum Paper
by Edwin S. Rubenstein

Cuban baseball players. A Russian ballet dancer. Joseph Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana. These are the kind of people, fearing persecution in their homelands, who were traditionally granted asylum in the United States. They came here for a concert tour, a gala performance, an exhibition game, or a political conference, before seeking refuge. Exhibit A: Martina Navratilova, the Czech tennis player, who defected during the 1975 U.S. Open.

The U.S. has always been a safe haven for individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries. In recent years, however, asylum has become a mass movement, available to any alien claiming persecution on account of race, religion, sexual identity, nationality, or political opinion. More than 20,000 people were granted asylum status in 2016; a backlog of 700,000 applications await action in Federal immigration courts.
The world is suffering the worst refugee crisis since World War II. There are now 65.4 million refugees and displaced people in the world, according to the United Nations.1 Every one of them is a potential asylee. Under U.S. immigration law a refugee is someone who requests protection while still overseas, while an asylee seeks protection when in the U.S. The difference between refugee and asylee is purely a matter of location.

Like refugees, asylees are eligible for food stamps, Social Security disability payments (SSI), cash welfare (TANF), and Medicaid upon entering the country.2 Legal immigrants must wait at least five-years before accessing these federal benefits.
Violence in Central America – it has some of the highest murder rates in the world – has pushed tens of thousands of people to seek asylum at the U.S. border. A caravan of 1,500 asylum seekers organized by a U.S.-based open borders group riveted the nation in May 2018 as it progressed through Mexico.

Lost in the caravan-related tweets, news reports, – and outrage – is that there is almost nothing U.S. immigration officials could do about it. The law is the law, and the current asylum law is fatally flawed. Illegal aliens entering at a designated border crossing are legally eligible to request asylum. People who sneak in illegally are eligible also. Many turn themselves in to the nearest Border Patrol officer in order to start this process.
Obtaining a grant of asylum is not easy. It can involve multiple interviews with immigration officials, hiring pricey lawyers, and court appearances. The process can take years to complete. Ultimately, less than 10% of applicants are actually granted asylum. But merely requesting asylum is usually enough to keep them here and happy.

The scam is well known: Turn yourself into a U.S. official, ask for asylum, then disappear into the country while you await your day in court. That day often never comes: immigration courts are overwhelmed with asylum applicants. If your claim is ultimately rejected, life goes on as before. More than 900,000 illegal aliens in the U.S. today have ignored a final deportation order.3 Meanwhile, asylees can obtain a Social Security number, a Green Card, and enroll their children in U.S. public schools.
A litany of administrative, legal, and political missteps has enabled this behavior.


Once they are processed at a port of entry, migrants requesting asylum are transferred to a detention facility where they must pass a “credible fear” of return screening with an officer of the Immigration and Citizenship Service.4 Credible fear is a fairly low legal standard, almost in the eye – or the ear – of the beholder. IDs are not required. In fact, little or no evidence beyond the testimony of the asylum seeker is needed to “prove” a claim, and DHS is generally restricted from acquiring information from outside the government.5
The U.S.-Mexican border spans 1,934 miles, yet there are only about 360 asylum officers stationed at eight asylum offices in the U.S. – none of them directly on the border.6 The distance between immigration officers and illegal aliens often makes a face-to-face interview impossible. Many interviews are conducted via telephone, in Spanish,[…]  

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Edwin S. Rubenstein

Ed Rubenstein, Director of Research for NPG and president of ESR Research, is an experienced business researcher, financial analyst, and economics journalist. He has written extensively on federal tax policy, government waste, the Reagan legacy, and – most recently – on immigration. He is the author of two books: The Right Data (1994) and From the Empire State to the Vampire State: New York in a Downward Transition (with Herbert London). His essays on public policy have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Investor’s Business Daily, Newsday, and National Review. His TV appearances include Firing Line, Bill Moyers, McNeil-Lehr, CNBC, and Debates-Debates. Mr. Rubenstein has a B.A. from Johns Hopkins and a graduate degree in economics from Columbia University.
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