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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Republicans Politicize Asylum Process for Venezuelans

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Apparently spurred on by the anti-Chavez Venezuela Awareness Foundation, several members of Congress have written to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano asking that she review the asylum process as it pertains to asylum seekers from Venezuela and ensure that it is "fair, humane, expeditious, and fully consistent with U.S. law."  It seems the Members of Congress are concerned because of delays in Venezuelan cases and because the asylum grant rate for asylum cases is too low.

In a letter to Secretary Napolitano, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida) writes:

I am concerned that the recent delays in processing these applications are the unfortunate result of a timid foreign policy that favors placating tyrants over assisting oppressed peoples achieve their democratic aspirations....  It would be shameful if the Administration allowed its asylum decisions, which are purportedly determined by a process untainted by political considerations to be delayed or denied in order to placate the very tyrant that asylum applicants seek to escape.

In a separate letter, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, complains that only a quarter of asylum petitions from Venezuela are granted.

There's at least one person who doesn't think President Obama appeases dictators.

The accusations in these letters are heavy on rhetoric, but short on reality.  First of all, in FY 2011, there were 445 asylum cases received in Immigration Court.  According to EOIR, 205 were granted and 136 were denied.  This is a grant rate of about 46%, not 25% as the Congresswoman claims.  Further, the rate for Venezuela is higher than the rate for such bastions of human rights as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (33%), Pakistan (33%), and China (44%).    

Second, for anyone familiar with the Immigration Court system, the idea that asylum grant rates reflect the policy of the Obama administration is pretty ludicrous.  Many Immigration Judges were appointed during previous administrations and they may or may not agree with Administration foreign policy.  Even if they do agree with our current foreign policy (and assuming that that policy involves appeasing dictators), they are still bound by law to adjudicate cases based on the merits, and there is no reason to believe they are doing otherwise.

Finally, as to the supposed delays that Venezuelans face in Immigration Court, there is no evidence that such delays are any worse for Venezuelans than for asylum seekers from other countries.  

In short, the letters to Secretary Napolitano are a cheap political stunt and the complaints are not based in reality.  There are plenty of issues in the asylum system that could use some attention.  Inequitable treatment of asylum seekers from Venezuela is not one of them.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

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