To the Editor:
In “Who Deserves Asylum?” [June] Mark Krikorian expresses concern about public support for political asylum being undermined, and then proceeds to bash the institution itself. His article attempts to alarm people by throwing out figures like “110 million” and “one-fifth of the world’s women,” when in fact the United States has no intention of granting asylum to hundreds of millions of people every year.
As even Mr. Krikorian points out, only 12,477 individuals were granted political asylum in the United States in 1995. By law only 10,000 asylees a year can move to permanent resident status, and that number is then subtracted from the annual numerical limit on refugees agreed upon by the President and Congress.
The tactic of inciting Americans against people who “might” come is dangerous. A leading argument made by restrictionists against admitting Jews during World War II was the size of the European Jewish population. In 1943, at the height of the war, only 5,944 refugees were admitted to the United States.
Today, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reforms have largely solved many of the problems in America’s political-asylum system, by improving the rules and by denying work permits while asylum claims are being processed. Applications declined by 57 percent in the last year; immigration courts are completing most new cases within a few weeks, and 98 percent within 180 days of filing.
According to the INS, only 22 percent of asylum cases in 1994 were approved. Many people with no legal representation or difficult-to-document cases do not even attempt to file a claim. So long as strict guidelines are developed and cases are decided on an individual basis, expanding the reasons for which thoroughly trained asylum officers and immigration judges will at least consider a claim of persecution is not a worrisome development. However, the increasing effort of politicians to lump legitimate refugees with illegal immigrants should worry all of us.
Mark Krikorian writes:
Stuart Anderson misses the point. The disturbing trends I identified are unrelated to the management of asylum claims, and those trends will continue regardless of the results of the Clinton administration’s reforms.
I specifically pointed out that the danger facing our tradition of asylum is not exaggerated fears of an overwhelmed bureaucracy, but the undisciplined expansion of the grounds for asylum to cover most of the human race, and the grave potential for loss of public support. But since Mr. Anderson echoes White House assertions that the system’s management problems have been solved, it is worth glancing at the record. The number of asylum claims in Fiscal Year 1995 was about 150,000, roughly the same as 1994 and 1993, but substantially higher than prior years.
Mr. Anderson’s claim that “applications declined by 57 percent last year” is, I suspect, the result of a too-brief glance at an INS press release. In fact, the total number of applications actually appears to be rising: preliminary data show more than 90,000 during just the first six months of FY-’96. And these numbers do not even include so-called “defensive” asylum claims, wherein immigration lawyers make last-ditch claims on behalf of illegal aliens who are undergoing deportation proceedings.
Finally, Mr. Anderson’s reference to Jews fleeing National Socialism is gratuitous, even offensive. The newfangled asylum applicants I discussed in my article cannot be and should not be equated with refugees fleeing a demonic, genocidal regime.