In the last couple posts, I wrote about how the asylum system is being strained by a significant uptick in the number of credible fear interviews and for other reasons. I concluded that the “new normal” for asylum seekers will be longer delays. This means longer separation from family, and greater stress and uncertainty. Today, I want to discuss some ideas for alleviating this problem.
The most obvious solution is probably the least likely–throw money at the problem. Of course we live in a time when politicians are falling all over themselves to cut spending. But if you will indulge an old (well, middle aged) lawyer, I’d like to suggest some reasons why the asylum program is worthy of more financial support.
For one thing, there are over 45 million displaced people world-wide (this includes refugees and internally displaced people). As a world leader, the United States has an important role to play in the humanitarian realm. If we do not assist refugees and asylum seekers, other countries will follow suit. Fulfilling our international obligations is part of what makes us a world leader.
Second, while it obviously costs us money to resettle refugees and asylees, over the long run, I believe that most of these people greatly benefit our nation. Some of those we help (such as many of my clients) are men and women who assisted us in our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. If we wish to maintain credibility with future allies, we cannot abandon those who helped us in the past. More generally, many asylum seekers are successful, talented people who will make important contributions to our country.
Third, we have created many of the messes that led to the large number of displaced people in the world today. That is particularly true in Central America where we toppled governments and supported dictators pretty much willy nilly. It’s also true to a lesser extent in Indochina and the Middle East. I am not saying that in many cases we did not have legitimate geo-political objectives, but since we (inadvertently) helped create the mess, we should help clean it up.
Finally–and this is probably the most important reason in my opinion–helping people in need is simply the right thing to do.
So for all those reasons, our asylum program deserves sufficient funding to fulfill its purpose without undue delays. The program assists incredibly vulnerable people, fulfills our international obligations, helps us maintain our leadership position in the world, and brings to the United States many ambitious, intelligent, and highly motivated people who will make our country a better place. Thus, my number one solution for reducing delays in the asylum process is to devote more resources to the system.
Some other–less expensive–thoughts on how to solve this problem:
- Issue work permits immediately: If the Asylum Offices know that cases will be delayed more than 150 days (the waiting period before an applicant can file for her work permit), why bother to make people wait? When the Asylum Offices know that a case will be delayed, they should allow the applicant to obtain a work permit immediately. This might require some creativity when it comes to the current law, but it should be do-able, and it would alleviate some of the pressure on asylum applicants.
- Prioritize cases based on family separation, past harm, and strength of the case: While such an evaluation would necessarily be imperfect, giving priority to cases that meet certain criteria would be better than doing nothing. Especially in cases of family unity, moving certain cases more quickly would make a big difference to the more needy applicants.
- Help Mexico: Many asylum seekers come through Mexico, a country that has been making some efforts to improve its asylum law. I wrote about this two years ago, but with all the problems in Mexico, we have not heard much about this lately. If Mexico could fully implement an effective asylum law, asylum seekers could be required to ask asylum in Mexico instead of passing through to the U.S. Something tells me that Mexican asylum law will not be up to speed in the near future, but if our goal is to reduce the number of people seeking asylum in the United States, one way to do that is to assist Mexico in getting their humanitarian act together.
- Eliminate or reform the Cuban Adjustment Act: As I have written before, I am not a fan of the CAA–I think that Cubans should apply for asylum like everyone else. But if we are going to keep this law, it should be reformed. Presently, for various reasons, many Cubans end up in the asylum system while they wait for adjustment under the CAA (they have to be here one year before they can adjust status and obtain their U.S. residency). Since they will obtain status based on the CAA, there is no need for them to have any involvement with the asylum system. It is a complete waste of resources. I don’t think this is a major factor in creating delay, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to segregate Cuban cases from other asylum cases, as there really is no reason for them to be using any asylum seeker resources.
- Eliminate forced family planning asylum: The largest number of asylum seekers in the U.S. come from China. One reason for this is because we have a law offering asylum to victims of forced abortion and forced family planning. The anecdotal evidence suggests that a high percentage of these cases is fraudulent. If the special provisions for Chinese asylum seekers were eliminated, it would likely reduce the number of applicants and the instances of fraud.
So there you have it. We seem to be in a time of change for the U.S. asylum program. I am hopeful that our system is flexible enough to deal with the current (hopefully temporary) changes and that we will continue to serve as a refuge for people fleeing persecution. It is our responsibility and our privilege. And it is the right thing to do.