Ken Cuccinelli: We need to tighten up loopholes in our asylum laws
As President Trump has stated, we face a national emergency at our southern border. We are witnessing a pattern where aliens are taking advantage of our asylum system in order to gain entry to the United States. One factor contributing to the abuse are the loopholes surrounding employment authorization for non-citizens.
This continuing crisis threatens the integrity of our immigration system and undermines our sovereignty as a nation. Nevertheless, advocates for eliminating borders have sown hysteria as they work to create public misunderstanding surrounding our immigration laws, namely the eligibility criteria for asylum.
This advocacy has disrupted and distorted what should be a rational, nationwide conversation over this nation’s immigration policy. But until Congress changes the rules, its current rules should be enforced as written. An administration that adheres to duly enacted immigration laws may be a novel concept, but it should not be controversial.
Under the rules set by Congress, to qualify for asylum, an illegal immigrant must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on at least one of five protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Fleeing general violence and crime in one’s home country does not qualify an illegal alien for asylum in the United States, nor does fleeing poverty to seek improved economic opportunities.
Despite knowing that many of these illegal immigrants likely do not qualify for asylum smugglers continue to line their pockets with exorbitant fee — sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars — to smuggle humans on a perilous journey to the United States. They often coaching them along the way for the credible fear screening they will have upon arrival.
Tellingly, many illegal aliens who pass the credible fear screening never actually apply for asylum once they enter the United States. This criminal enterprise takes advantage of and endangers many individuals and undermines the legitimacy of our generous system of humanitarian protection.
Earlier this year, President Trump directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take action to restore integrity to our asylum system.
This week, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the DHS agency I lead, has taken action to fulfill this instruction by proposing to modify current regulations governing employment authorization based on a pending asylum application.
This proposal is designed to deter illegal aliens from filing fraudulent, frivolous, or otherwise non-meritorious asylum applications solely to obtain employment authorization.
For example, when an applicant’s asylum denial becomes administratively final, their employment authorization would terminate automatically under our proposed rule.
Under current regulations, illegal immigrants have been allowed to continue working for the remainder of the time on their work permits, despite the fact that their asylum applications have been denied and they have been ordered to leave the United States. This practice contravenes the law, which allows work authorization to be granted based on a pending, not denied, asylum application.
Additionally, the proposed reforms also bar certain criminal aliens from obtaining an employment authorization document through the asylum application process.
With limited exceptions, people who entered the country illegally; have any federal or state felony conviction; or have been convicted of any offense involving child abuse, domestic violence; or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be prevented from obtaining employment authorization while their asylum claims are being adjudicated.
Individuals who have been convicted of any serious non-political crime outside of the United States also will be ineligible for employment authorization during this pending period. Unresolved arrests or pending charges may result in the denial of the application for employment authorization as a matter of discretion.
To be clear, this proposed rule does not change the eligibility criteria for asylum, and any illegal alien denied work authorization while their applications are pending still gains employment authorization if and when they are actually granted asylum.
Ultimately, closing asylum loopholes and protecting the integrity of our Nation’s immigration system will benefit both the United States and those who qualify for humanitarian protection.
An asylum system bogged down by those who will not likely qualify for asylum jeopardizes the fate of legitimate asylum seekers in need of direct and swift protection. USCIS is focused on strengthening America’s immigration system, stemming the crisis at the southern border, and protecting those who qualify for asylum under the law.
Ken Cuccinelli is the acting director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.