The Board of Immigration Appeals earlier this week held that an Immigration Judge can make a determination that an asylum application is frivolous even in the absence of a final decision on the merits of that application. See Matter of X-M-C-, 25 I&N Dec. 322 (BIA 2010). The Board also held that withdrawal of the alien’s asylum application after the required warnings and safeguards have been provided does not preclude a finding that the application is frivolous.
In Matter of X-M-C-, the alien filed an affirmative asylum application that contained false information. After an interview at the Asylum Office in California, the case was referred to an Immigration Court. During a court hearing, the alien admitted that her asylum claim and her testimony before the Asylum Officer were false. She withdrew her application for asylum and applied for adjustment of status. She also admitted to submitting fraudulent documents. The IJ denied the adjustment of status holding that the later recantation of her story did “not waive the fact that a frivolous application has been filed.” The BIA found:
[An] Immigration Judge’s authority to determine that an alien has knowingly made a frivolous application for asylum is not limited to circumstances in which the Immigration Judge makes a final determination on the merits of the application. The relevant provisions of the Act and the regulations clearly indicate that an inquiry into whether an application is frivolous can be triggered once the application is “made” or “filed.”
“Consequently,” the Board held, ”after a determination has been made that an asylum application is frivolous, a separate evaluation of the merits of the application is not necessary.”
The Board also determined that withdrawal of the asylum application does not prevent a determination that the application was frivolous:
The plain language of section 208(d)(6) clearly provides that an asylum application can be deemed frivolous once it is “made” and the required warnings have been given. Allowing the preemptive withdrawal of an application to prevent a finding of frivolousness would undermine both the plain language of, and the policy behind, section 208(d)(6)—as well as the potency of the required warnings. An alien, such as the respondent, who not only filed a frivolous application but also testified falsely in support of that application to an asylum officer could escape the consequences deliberately chosen by Congress to prevent such abuse of the system.
While applicants should be encouraged to recant false statements and withdraw false applications, the Immigration Judge and this Board are not prevented from finding that an application is frivolous simply because the applicant withdrew the application or recanted false statements after the appropriate warnings and safeguards were given, but prior to a decision on the merits.
The paragraph quoted immediately above lays bare the dilemma of cases involving fraudulent asylum applications. On the one hand, we want to encourage aliens to recant false statements. On the other hand, Congress has plainly indicated that aliens who make false statements should be punished. The alien who makes up a claim where there is none has earned such treatment. But aliens who have legitimate claims often “enhance” their story because they feel (or are told) that they should do so. Such aliens are–to me at least–much more sympathetic. In general, IJs seem to distinguish between these two categories of fraudsters, treating the latter better than the former.
Matter of X-M-C- does not require frivolous findings and does not prevent IJs from distinguishing the different types of fraud. It does, however, make clear that an alien cannot protect herself from a frivolous finding by withdrawing her asylum application.