May 1996 Volume 3 Number 5
Anti-Terrorism and Asylum
The anti-terrorism bill signed by President Clinton on April 24 would permit asylum officers, with the approval of their supervisors, to exclude aliens requesting asylum from entering the US if they arrive without documents and do not have a "credible fear of persecution," or if they entered the US illegally.
In 1995, about 3,300 aliens arrived in the US without documents and sought asylum.
Immigrant rights groups argued that the "enter illegally" provisions that could lead to exclusion from the US might be used to exclude millions of aliens apprehended after illegal entry. Most of the aliens apprehended by the Border Patrol are fingerprinted and photographed, and then allowed to "voluntarily return" to Mexico. Under some interpretations of the anti-terrorism bill, an asylum officer could exclude such aliens from the US without offering them a deportation hearing, the current practice.
A deportation hearing is a more formal judicial proceeding in which the burden of proof is on the US government to show why the alien should not be allowed to stay in the US.
On May 1, the Senate by a 51 to 49 vote substituted Attorney General discretion for the terrorism and Simpson bills' summary exclusion provisions. The Senate-approved amendment would permit administrative review of an asylum officer's decision to exclude an asylum seeker who arrives without documents. The House-approved bill permits summary exclusion, so the issue will be decided in the House-Senate conference committee.
As the anti-terrorism law went into effect in late April, the INS began detaining illegal aliens who had been convicted of crimes in the US as they left prison. Past practice was to allow such aliens to post bond while they appealed deportation orders, and permitted immigration judges to permit the aliens to remain in the US if they were in the US at least seven years and have employment and family ties here.
Some Chinese women who object to the one-child policy have been able to win asylum in the US.
On May 2, 1996, the US Board of Immigration Appeals will hear the appeal of an African woman who in 1994 requested asylum in the US because she would have faced genital mutilation in her native Togo. Foreigners can request asylum in the US if they face a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a social group; the woman argues that she is part of a social group--women who oppose genital mutilation.
After front page stories in the New York Times on this case, the woman was released from detention April 24.
The Clinton Administration filed a brief in support of providing asylum for women who have a credible fear of being forced to undergo genital mutilation as adults.
The World Health Organization estimates that 85 million to 114 million girls and women have been mutilated in 26 African nations. The board's ruling in this case will be binding on the nation's 179 immigration judges, who have been divided in their handling of such cases.
In 1994, the Clinton Administration told immigration officers that they could postpone indefinitely the deportation of women who faced forced abortions in China, but the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that such fear cannot justify asylum--30 Chinese women have been affected by this policy.
In 1995, guidelines were issued to help immigration officers identify women who should get asylum because sexual violence were issued, and three women have so far been granted asylum for fear of genital mutilation. In March 1996, battered spouses of US citizens were allowed to apply for immigrant status on their own.
Eric Schmitt, "Provision in terrorism bill cuts rights of illegal aliens," New York Times, April 19, 1996. Celia Dugger, "Woman, Seeking Asylum, Endures Prison in America," New York Times, April 15, 1996.