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August 1995, Volume 2, Number 8

New Asylum Rules

The INS on January 4, 1995 implemented new regulations to reduce "abuse" of the asylum system. On July 5, 1995, the INS reported that these new regulations have been successful in deciding quickly whether an alien needs protection in the US.

The Clinton administration planned to adjudicate 150,000 asylum applications by September 1995. In the first eight months of FY95, the INS completed more than 61,000 cases, compared to the 35,000 cases it adjudicated during the same period last year. There is a backlog of over 400,000 requests for asylum awaiting INS decisions.

Aliens seeking asylum enter the US, and then file a form in person or by mail that asserts that the individual seeking to stay in the US would face persecution in his or her country of citizenship.

The number of asylum seekers has climbed, and reached almost 150,000 in FY94. About one-fourth of all these asylum seekers are Guatemalans, one-eighth are Salvadorans, and one-twelfth are Chinese. Another 20,000 asylum claims were filed by aliens who were in the process of being excluded from or deported from the US. About 20 percent of the aliens who ask for asylum are granted permission to remain in the US.

The reforms announced in January 1995 have resulted in decisions on most new cases filed within 10 to 14 days after applicants are interviewed by asylum officers. Asylum applicants are not eligible to work legally in the US until at least 180 days after their application has been filed, or when it is approved, whichever comes first. One year after being granted asylum, aliens are entitled to immigrant status.

To deter fraudulent claims for asylum, the INS is increasing detention and speeding up the deportation of those denied asylum. Asylum officers report that, in many instances, individuals use the same words they have been coached to repeat to describe their persecution. These measures have decreased asylum claims by 14 percent from January to May.

The INS has the authority to detain persons seeking asylum who do not have any immigration documents. Under legislation pending in Congress, applicants for asylum who arrive in the US without documents and request asylum would be excluded from the US while their claims are processed. Aliens in the US would have to request asylum within 30 days of arriving in the US--today, some aliens wait until they are apprehended to apply for asylum.

In 1994, about 38,000 Cubans and 26,000 Haitians attempted to come to the US in boats to apply for asylum. To prevent their entry and process asylum applications, the US established a safe haven for them in Guantanamo.

One hundred and eight Chinese refugees from the Golden Venture, which ran aground near New York harbor in June 1993, are being held in York, Pennsylvania while the INS determines whether they will be granted political asylum. Only five of the York detainees have been granted asylum, 26 have returned to China. Some York residents hold a vigil for one hour every Sunday to demonstrate their solidarity with the Chinese refugees.

On July 19, four of the Golden Venture refugees, testified before the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights. The women said that they were forced to undergo abortions or sterilizations under unsanitary conditions. All four have been denied political asylum in the US.

Legislation that grant asylum to persons forced to undergo abortion or sterilization was passed by the House and is pending in the Senate. President Clinton has threatened to veto the measure.

The INS detains over 80,000 asylum seekers annually, often in private facilities operated by for-profit companies. On June 18, some 300 asylum seekers being held in a privately-operated detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey rioted, alleging that they were being mistreated. On July 21, the INS agreed with the asylum seekers, and canceled the company's five-year, $51 million contract to operate the facility. The INS found that the facility was run by poorly trained and abusive guards, who were left unsupervised by their superiors.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said that similar abuses can be found at other detention facilities around the country. INS Commission Meissner believes that the problems at the New Jersey facility were an isolated incidence and plans to continue to use private detention centers. Esmor continues to detain aliens for the INS in the Seattle area.

In Florida, several nurseries have complained that if their Salvadoran workers, some of whose work permits expire in September, 1995, leave, they will face labor shortages. Some have worked for 10 or more years for one employer.

The INS is stepping up its efforts to deport criminal aliens, persons who committed crimes in the US as illegal aliens (or became illegal aliens because of the crime) served their sentences, and are now being deported. In 1986, 2,000 criminal aliens were deported; in 1995, 22,000, and in 1996, the INS plans to deport 58,000.

Steve Liewer, "Nurseries Face Loss of Workers," Sun-Sentinel, July 30, 1995; Maryalice Yakutchik, "People of the golden Venture," The Sun (Baltimore), July 23, 1995. Ashley Dunn, "US Inquiry Finds Detention Center Was Poorly Run, New York Times, July 22, 1995, p. 1; Sarah Jackson-Han, "Chinese asylum-seekers give tearful Congressional testimony," Agence France Presse, July 20, 1995; "A Promise Kept: Asylum Reform six months later," INS Press Release, July 6, 1995. John Goshko, "US Strives to Ease Backlog of Political Asylum Cases," International Herald Tribune, July 10, 1995.