Sessions Expands on Trump Plan to Toughen Asylum Process

Alicia A. Caldwell, Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that the administration wants to overhaul a variety of laws and regulations to make the process of applying for asylum in the U.S. more difficult, and to crack down on what he described as rampant fraud within that realm of the immigration system.

Among the necessary changes, he said, are revisions of an antitrafficking statute that governs how unaccompanied children are treated.

People seeking asylum typically must first establish that they are fleeing their home countries because they have “credible fear” of persecution or violence.

“The system is being gamed,” Mr. Sessions said, in a speech at the headquarters of the immigration court system, a branch of the Justice Department. “The credible-fear process was intended to be a lifeline for persons facing serious persecution.  But it has become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States.”

The attorney general said smugglers, who he said coach immigrants to say “the magic words,” and “dirty immigration lawyers,” who he said have encouraged immigrants to file false asylum claims, have overburdened the system.

Little proof is required of immigrants making an initial claim of fear about returning to their home country, Mr. Sessions said, and fraud and flaws in the system have led to rapid increases in asylum requests at the border.

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Mr. Sessions’s comments come as President Donald Trump proposes tightening rules for asylum seekers as part of a broader immigration plan.

Mr. Trump’s proposals include keeping asylum-seekers jailed while a judge decides their fate, which could deter some people with weak cases from applying. It would also mean a significant shift in how the nation treats newcomers who claim they are fleeing violence and political oppression.

More than 60,000 immigrants asked the U.S. government for asylum either upon arrival in the U.S. or after being jailed in 2016, the most recent statistics available.

Their cases were added to an overburdened immigration-court system that now has a backlog of more than 632,000 cases and yearslong waits for hearings. Statistics about how many asylum seekers are jailed aren’t available.

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