Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday announced a new front in—President Donald Trump’s ongoing war against immigrants. This time, he’s targeting one of the most vulnerable immigrant populations on the planet: asylum seekers.
In remarks delivered to the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, Sessions set his sights squarely on those fleeing violence in their home countries, claiming that lying immigrants and “dirty immigration lawyers” have caused the U.S. asylum system to be “gamed.”
“Anecdotally, we know there is significant fraud in the ‘credible fear’ process, and much of that originates from, or is abetted by, the smugglers on which many aliens entering illegally rely,” Sessions claimed, citing a 2015 Government Accountability Office report which acknowledged a backlog of asylum cases, and raised the issue of fraud. That report said that a total of 374 asylum seekers were identified as fraudulent between 2010 and 2014. There were 108,152 asylum applications in 2014 alone.
“[The asylum system was] never intended to provide asylum to all those who fear generalized violence, crime, personal vendettas, or a lack of job prospects,” Sessions paradoxically claimed, despite the fact those sort of factors are exactly why so many people seek asylum in the first place.
“Congress must pass the legislative priorities President Trump announced this week, which included significant asylum reform, swift border returns, and enhanced interior enforcement,” Sessions insisted, adding:
We can impose and enforce penalties for baseless or fraudulent asylum applications and expand the use of expedited removal. We can elevate the threshold standard of proof in credible fear interviews. We can expand the ability to return asylum seekers to safe third countries. We can close loopholes and clarify our asylum laws to ensure that they help those they were intended to help.
We can turnaround this crisis under President Trump’s leadership.
However, the GAO report he’d cited—which had been signed off on by both the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security—recommended none of those extreme measures. Instead, it recommended:
DHS and DOJ conduct regular fraud risk assessments and that DHS, among other things, implement tools for detecting fraud patterns, develop asylum-specific guidance for fraud detection roles and responsibilities, and implement timeliness goals for pending termination reviews.
In other words: The GAO said the government should tighten existing rules, and get better at identifying fraud. The idea that asylum seekers should be actively punished for their claims, and be made to provide proof at an even higher standard is all Sessions.
Sessions’ speech came as part of a full court press by Trump administration officials to sell the public on the president’s hardline immigration policies, of which targeting asylum seekers are only a small fraction. Also included in the president’s priorities is his oft-promised wall between the United States and Mexico, as well as expanding the government’s ability to target and deport unaccompanied minor undocumented immigrants.