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March 19, 2014

Fraud Detection at Work in the U.S. Asylum System

A recent op-ed in The Boston Globe discusses ways in which fraud detection measures in the U.S. asylum system are working, and outlines how the asylum system can be strengthened to protect refugees. The piece comes at a critical time, as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are recognizing the negative impact of fraud on bona fide refugees.

The opinion piece by Laila Hlass of Georgetown University Law Center notes that data shows that “the people who should be receiving asylum are and that our system is working fairly well.” She cites a recent study of Department of Homeland Security asylum proceedings, which found that there was a meaningful connection between countries that have the worst human rights records and the number of people granted asylum in the United States.

U.S authorities have many tools for detecting fraud, as detailed by Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer when she testified last month before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, which held a hearing to investigate abuse of the asylum system. These tools include mandatory biographical checks, mandatory biometric checks, fraud detection and national security teams, mandatory supervisory review of all asylum decisions, asylum officer training, and government-funded interpreter monitors.

Penalties for committing fraud are extensive, including the potential for prosecution of fraudulent filers, preparers, and attorneys. As Hlass pointed out, the prosecution of 30 lawyers, paralegals, and interpreters who prepared hundreds of fraudulent applications for Chinese Immigrants in December 2012 is an example of how existing fraud detection measures are working.

Hlass also noted that “immigrants who apply for asylum affirmatively do so at tremendous risk. Applicants turned down for asylum consistently face deportation. And if it is proven someone has lied on an asylum application, he may be subject to criminal penalties, including jail time and fines, and he is banned from seeking legal status in the United States.”

In her testimony, Acer emphasized that “If individuals or groups are defrauding the asylum system, it hurts everyone, and steps should be taken to counter those abuses and punish the perpetrators.” Human Rights First has outlined some critical steps that should be taken to strengthen and protect the integrity of the asylum system, including additional staffing and resources for the asylum, credible fear and immigration court removal systems, continued enhancement of tools for detecting and investigating abuse, the use of cost-effective alternatives to detention, support for Legal Orientation Programs that improve the efficiency of the immigration system, and removal of unnecessary impediments that delay cases and prevent refugees from receiving protection.

Human Rights First encourages the efforts of Congress to ensure legitimate refugees are, and will, be protected. It is imperative that efforts by lawmakers and government officials to strengthen fraud detection measures in the asylum system are not done so at the expense of the people that the system is designed to protect. Our asylum system must continue to be one of integrity that reflects America’s commitment to protecting those fleeing persecution.

For more information read our fact sheet on integrity measures in the asylum process and blog on strengthening the asylum system without adding unnecessary burdens.