Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” host Fareed Zakaria opened his show by acknowledging what many critics of current U.S. immigration policy have maintained, which is there are flaws with the country’s asylum system.
Transcript as follows:
Given President Trump’s mean spirited and often bigoted attitudes on immigration, it pains me to say this, but he is right, that the United States faces a crisis with its asylum system. Democrats might hope that the out-of-control situation at the southern border undermines Trump’s image among his base as a tough guy who can tackle immigration. But they should be careful. It could actually work to the president’s advantage.
Since 2014, the flow of asylum seekers into the United States has skyrocketed. Last year, immigration courts received 162,000 asylum claims. A 240 percent increase from 2014. The result is a staggering backlog with more than 300,000 asylum cases pending and the average immigration case has been pending for more than 700 days. It’s also clear that the rules surrounding asylum are vague, lax and being gamed.
The initial step for many asylum seekers is to convince officers that they have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries. And about 75 percent meet that criteria. Some applicants for asylum have suspiciously similar stories using identical phrases. Many simply use the system to enter the U.S. and then melt into the shadows or gain a work permit while their application is pending.
Asylum is meant to be granted to a very small number of people in extreme circumstances. Not as a substitute for the process of immigration itself. Yet, the two have gotten mixed up. As the Atlantic’s David Frum has pointed out, the idea of a right to asylum is a relatively recent one dating to the early years of the Cold War. Guilt-ridden over the rejection of many Jewish refugees during World War II the U.N. created a right of asylum to protect those who are fleeing regimes where they would be killed our imprisoned because of their identity or beliefs. This standard has gotten broader and broader over the years. And now
includes threats of gang warfare and domestic violence. These looser criteria coupled with the reality that this is a safe way to enter the U.S. have made the asylum system easy to abuse. Applications from Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans have surged even though the murder rate in their countries has been cut in half.
More broadly, hundreds of millions of people around the world who live in poor, unstable regions where threats of violence abound could easily apply for asylum. Do they all have the legal right to enter the U.S. through a backdoor, bypassing the normal immigration process? The Trump administration’s approach has been mostly to toughen up the criteria. Hire more judges, push Mexico to keep applicants from entering the U.S.
But a much larger fix is needed. The criteria for asylum need to be rewritten and substantially tightened. The number of courts and officials dealing with asylum must be massively expanded. People should not be able to use asylum claims as a way to work in America. There needs to be a much greater cooperation with the home countries of these applicants rather than insults, threats and aid freezes.
No one fix will do it, but we need the kind of sensible bipartisan legislation that has resolved past immigration crises. Democrats have spent most of their efforts on this topic, assailing the Trump administration for its heartlessness. Fine. But that does not address the roots of this genuine crisis. If things continue to spiral downward and America’s southern border seems out of control, Trump’s tough rhetoric and hard-line stance will become increasingly attractive to the public.
Keep in mind, that the rise of populism in the Western world is almost everywhere tied to fears of growing out of control immigration.
Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor