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Home / Press Release / Secretary Kelly Wrongly Implies Majority of Asylum Seekers Present False Claims
May 04, 2017

Secretary Kelly Wrongly Implies Majority of Asylum Seekers Present False Claims

New York City—Human Rights First today expressed alarm over statements made this morning by Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in which he implied that the vast majority of asylum seekers present false claims of persecution and fear of return to their home country. In particular, he alleged that a mother previously detained at the Berks County Detention Center lied during her credible fear interview. Secretary Kelly’s remarks come just one day after Human Rights First’s released a report finding that that over one hundred individuals had been illegally rejected by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the southern border.

"There is no evidence supporting the claim that any signifiant proportion of asylum seekers presents false claims or otherwise attempts to defraud the system," said Human Rights First's Olga Byrne. "As the head of this country's agency that oversees implementation of U.S. law on immigration, including protection claims that can mean life or death for asylum seekers, it is deeply troubling to hear that Secretary Kelly holds such unfounded and, quite frankly, ill-advised views." 

Secretary Kelly's remarks this morning at the Atlantic Council came in response to concern raised by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) over the middle-of-the-night deportation of a mother and her 5-year old son to Honduras. Maria, who uses a pseudonym to protect her identity, was one of 14 women detained at the Berks detention facility for over one year while awaiting a federal court ruling on her ability to challenge an "expedited removal order" issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which denied her and her son their day in immigration court.  

Last year Human Rights First reviewed Maria's claim and supported her request for reconsideration before the DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Office (USCIS). Like the majority of asylum seekers, Maria did not have an attorney representing her at her credible fear interview, despite the fact that a negative outcome at this stage is often impossible to overcome.

In December 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on how the government responds to potential fraud in the asylum system. The report recommended that DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) develop evidence-based tools to assess actual fraud risks, noting that there is currently no accurate measure as to how much fraud exists. 

Access to asylum is also threat at U.S. borders as well. Human Rights First’s  new report, “Crossing the Line,” finds that U.S. border agents have illegally turned some asylum seekers back into Mexico in violation of both U.S. law and treaty commitments that protect access to asylum.

"Before making sweeping statements, Secretary Kelly should check the facts. Maria was found credible by the asylum officer, like the majority of individuals who present fear claims during the expedited removal process,” noted Byrne. “Furthermore, Secretary Kelly must ensure that his negative views of asylum seekers do not translate into unlawful practices. Should such biases be operationalized into the asylum system, DHS risks being in violation of both U.S. law and U.S. treaty commitments that uphold the rights of asylum seekers.”

For more information or to speak with Byrne contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.