House Judiciary Hearing on Asylum

On 12/12/13 at 10:00am the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on:"Asylum Abuse: Is it Overwhelming our Borders?"

Witness List

Ms. Lori Scialabba
Deputy Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Mr. Daniel H. Ragsdale
Deputy Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Mr. Michael J. Fisher
Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Border Patrol

DHS Combined Testimony

Ms. Ruth Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy, Congressional Research Service

10:21am HEARING BEGINS (limited summary of the hearing below)

Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair of Judiciary Committee, begins hearing with his opening statement.

According to critics many claims by asylum seekers are an orchestrated sham, passed on by word of mouth. The committee received an internal CBP memo stating that many asylum seekers are part of drug smuggling organizations. Many of those who are admitted into the country under the rules of asylum are allowed to live and work in the United States for years without ever going before an immigration judge. I look forward to getting to the bottom of this disturbing problem today.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Immigration Subcommittee gives her opening statement.

Five years ago I became involved in a bipartisan group to create an immigration reform process, that continued for many years until it recently fell apart. However, when it comes to immigration the work that this committee has done in the past year has not moved the ball forward-I still remain hopeful for the next session of Congress. In 1996 Congress passed the IRA-IRA bill, I voted against the bill at all levels because I believe it was a mean spirited bill. One of the worst parts of that bill was expedited removal, which allows people to be deported without due process. Congress recognized that people would be deported who had legitimate credible fear of persecution in their home country. Therefore, Congress decided that these aliens would have the ability to speak with an asylum officer to establish credible fear at a lower evidence level than at an asylum hearing. Are our borders overwhelmed? By historical measures the answer is clearly no. Only a small fraction of people being apprehended at or between our ports actually seek asylum. We cannot know yet why the cases driving the asylum seeker increases in 2013 because they have not yet been adjudicated by immigration courts, due to the enormous backlog. Mexicans only make up 7% of credible fear claims. We do not know why numbers are increasing of people claiming credible fear, and prejudging that question is unwise.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Chair of the Immigration subcommittee, yields his opening statement to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

Today, we're going to examine the threats to our nation's border by the use of the credible fear process. The integrity of our nation's immigration system is compromised and potential threats to our communities our allowed to work and live here. We have received reports that Mexican drug cartels are abusing the process to bypass immigration checks to get into the country. DHS has refused to provide us with the documentation that proves this happens. DHS must answer why have credible fear claims increased from 5000 to 32,000 and why are 92% of credible fear claims are being approved?

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking members of the Judiciary Committee, begins his opening statement.

The Republican National Party has recognized that the party must embrace and complete comprehensive immigration reform. Here we are on the last full day of the 113th Congress' first session and so far we've yet to see any action from the floor of the House. Even in committee we have yet to consider critical parts of reform, we've seen no bill for the DREAMers, we've seen no bill to provide for legalization of the 11 million undocumented. In fact the only bill currently pending in the House is H.R. 15, which has 197 co-sponsors. For the last month, just steps from where we sit today, advocates for immigration reform have abstained from all food to keep the nation's hunger for immigration reform on the forefront of the House. Despite all that, the final hearing of this committee continues the perception that Republicans think of all immigrants first and foremost as criminals, fraudsters and gang members. This is an important issue, it is important that we figure out why there has been an increase in asylum seekers, but that is not all we have to do. All year long the Majority has said they want to take their time and approach immigration reform one piece at a time, I agree we want to be deliberative, but let's not fool ourselves. This issue isn't new; we've been debating this issue for more than a decade. We know that families and business, and communities all across the country are counting on us to do a lot more in 2014 than just hold another 14 hearings. Let's begin the 2nd session be bringing up H.R., and if not let's consider some of the Republican bills that might be in the works. Because doing nothing is no more of an option for us than for the families who are being torn apart each and every day.

Rep. Goodlatte: In the new year the committee will continue work on immigration reform, and it will be a top priority. I would encourage the members to take that we are holding the final hearing in the committee on immigration as a sign of our seriousness to deal with immigration reform.

11:08am Questions and Answer session begins

Rep. Goodlatte: Sec. Chertoff ended catch and release because it was ineffective enforcement mechanism, when we began apprehending all Brazilians who were immigrating illegally the word spread and the number of Brazilians who were attempting to enter dropped quickly. Why doesn't DHS utilize Se. Chertoff's strategy and remove the asylum incentive for non-Mexicans to immigrate illegally?

Ragsdale: We are doing it now in a smart way, the difference we are doing now is to detain criminal aliens first.

Rep. Goodlatte: Sec. Chertoff did not make the distinction between criminals, they detained every person from Brazil so that there is not this problem of word getting back to these countries, this is the thing that drove down asylum claims.

Ragsdale: The use of expedited removal has allowed DHS to remove more people more quickly, it is an effective enforcement tool.

Rep. Goodlatte: If that's the case why has ICE requested less detention beds?

Ragsdale: Detention is only one part of the problem; we need an increase in court capacity.

Rep. Goodlatte: There is a 92% credible fear claim approval rate, how many of these people are ultimately granted asylum before a judge, and of those who aren't how many are deported versus those who abscond?

Ragsdale: The answer would have to come from EOIR.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA): How many people who are granted credible fear fail to appear before an immigration judge?

Ragsdale: It is difficult to come up with a unique data set, but it is about 20%.

Rep. King: Are marijuana numbers up and down confiscated on the border?

Fisher: They are up.

Rep. King: What about tragic deaths of people coming across the border? Up or down?

Fisher: Those numbers over the last couple of years are down.

Rep. King: Are your apprehensions at the border up or down?

Fisher: Over the last two years they are slightly up, we are up 16% over the last year.

Rep. King: It seems that there is a decision made by this administration that they will target reosurces at those who pose the most threat to this country, but I wonder what this would look like if we implemented a Rudy Guiliani broken window policy. Seems to be it would be more effective to provide the additional resources necessary to fully implement and apprehend our border laws.

Rep. Lofgren: I think it's important to remember why we have an asylum and refugee system in this country, because the United States is a beacon of hope and freedom to the rest of the world. If you come and escape torture and make your claim of asylum, the first thing that happens to you is you get thrown in jail, usually for a long time.

Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL): We're talking about credible fear and the President not enforcing our laws, it's important, but we need to address these issues holistically. The U.S. is an international beacon of hope and it is imperative that we continue that.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 13121246.