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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Are Terrorists Taking Advantage of the Asylum System?

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In a recent broadcast on San Diego Public Radio, Amita Sharma reports on Somali asylum seekers who "are taking a suspicious route" to the United States.  This, at a time when "the Al-Qaeda-linked Somali Islamist group al-Shabab has threatened to attack the United States." 


The asylum seekers leave Somalia for Kenya, where they obtain false passports.  From there, they travel to Cuba and then Central America, where they make their way to Mexico.  In Mexico, they surrender to the authorities and receive an expulsion document, which allows them to travel through Mexico.  The Somalis then enter the U.S. illegally and file for asylum.


According to the KPBS report, the Somalis have no identification and use the Mexican expulsion document--which is issued by the Mexican government based on the alien's representations--as their ID when they apply for asylum.  The fear, of course, is that these Somalis are terrorists coming here to attack our country.  Federal agents say that the criminal background check performed on all asylum seekers is inadequate: "if they've never been to America, there won't be any criminal record of them."


I have represented many Africans who have traveled to the U.S. in a similar fashion.  The route often takes them through different African countries, then to South America, Central America, Mexico, and the United States.  They use one or more false passports and meet several different smugglers along the way.  The trip is circuitous and strange, and it is not clear why people pass through so many different countries (my guess is that the smugglers can get more money if they make the journey longer).


Many of my clients have been instructed to surrender to the Mexican authorities in order to obtain the "expulsion document," which they use to prove their date of entry into the United States (aliens are only eligible for asylum if they show that they filed their application within one year of arrival; the Mexican document demonstrates that they were in Mexico on the date that the document was issued).  In my experience, the Mexican document does not--as the article states--prove the alien's identity.  To establish identity, we submit other documents, such as school and work records, a driver's license or a birth certificate.


Nevertheless, people are crossing our Southern border and applying for asylum, and we do not know much about them.  This certainly does present a security threat, but it must be viewed in context--Many more people cross the border, never claim asylum, and live here illegally.  Given that asylum seekers undergo a background check (albeit imperfect) and government interviews (also imperfect), it seems that any terrorist would be better off entering the U.S. and not seeking asylum.  Why initiiate contact with government authorities if you plan to engage in criminal activity? 


I can imagine scenerios where a terrorist would come here and falsely claim asylum.  However, given the level of government scrutiny involved, asylum is probably one of the least effective means for a terrorist to infiltrate our country. 

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