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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Anti-Immigration Group Spies on Asylum Division, Lies About It

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Nayla Rush, a Senior Researcher at the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, has apparently been spying on the USCIS Asylum Division - and lying about what she has overheard.
I couldn't find a photo of Nayla Rush infiltrating the asylum meeting, but I assume it would look something like this.


First, a bit of background: As you may know, the Center for Immigration Studies or CIS (not to be confused with USCIS - the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) is a group that wants to restrict immigration to the United States. Their writers are usually intellectually honest, though not always. I often disagree with their policy positions, and I have written about them a few times (here, here, and here). They also occasionally write about me.


Last week, I visited the CIS website and discovered Nayla Rush's post about attending the USCIS Asylum Division Quarterly Stakeholder Meeting on December 11, 2015. The meeting was for "Stakeholders" in the asylum system: Advocacy groups, lawyers, even--I suppose--people who want to restrict the asylum process. But the meeting is specifically not for the media. The invitation reads, "Note to media: This engagement is not for press purposes. Please contact USCIS Press Office... for any media inquiries."


It just so happens that I also attended the meeting in question, which was led by the Asylum Division Director, John Lafferty. About 50 people were present, including USCIS staff, private lawyers (like me), and representatives of various organizations involved with asylum law.


During the first part of the meeting, each person introduced himself and stated the name of his organization. If Ms. Rush introduced herself, I do not remember. But certainly she did not reveal that she was representing CIS - everyone there knows the anti-immigration group and her presence at the meeting would have raised some eyebrows.


Ms. Rush also did not reveal that she was attending in her capacity as a journalist. Perhaps she hoped to discover some dirt or some secret conspiracy between USCIS and asylum advocates. Maybe she covertly recorded the meeting, Planned Parenthood-style, with the hope of exposing something nefarious. Apparently, she did not find anything too damning, but fear not--in the absence of evidence, you can always make stuff up.


From the meeting, Ms. Rush claims to have learned that "Officers interview asylum seekers by phone in 60 percent of the cases (except for families who are already in detention centers)." In her piece, "Most Asylum Applicants Are Interviewed by Telephone. Feel Safer?", Ms. Rush notes that it's hard enough to assess an applicant's credibility, but if the officers cannot even look the applicant in the eye, fraudulent asylum seekers--including potentially dangerous people--can scam their way through the system. "Call me skeptical," she writes, "but I don't see how this subjective assessment [of asylum seeker credibility] can be obtained through a telephone conversation."


So the premise of Ms. Rush's article is that 60% of asylum seekers are interviewed by phone. If this were true, it would be cause for concern. However, the actual number of asylum seekers interviewed by phone is more like 0%. That's zero. Zilch. Nada. None. In fact, every asylum applicant interviews in-person, face-to-face, with an Asylum Officer. So what is Ms. Rush talking about?


My best guess is that she has confused (or deliberately conflated) asylum interviews and credible fear interviews ("CFI"). The purpose of an asylum interview is to determine whether an applicant may be granted asylum, and thus the legal ability to remain permanently in the U.S. The purpose of a CFI is to determine whether an applicant presents a prima facia case for asylum. If the applicant meets this minimal standard, she will then be sent to an Immigration Judge (or in the case of a minor, an Asylum Officer) to determine whether asylum should be granted. If the applicant fails the credible fear interview, she will be deported. Many credible fear applicants are interviewed by phone, but since this is only an initial evaluation of the case, and since the only purpose is to assess whether the person has articulated a fear of return to her country, credibility is not really a consideration. If the person "passes" the CFI and then presents her asylum case, she will have an in-person interview (or a trial) where credibility is carefully considered.


From all this, it seems that Ms. Rush is either so unfamiliar with the asylum process that she confused two basic concepts (asylum and CFI), or she understands the asylum process and she is a big liar. My guess is that it's the latter. Why? Because the article is not the only instance of Ms. Rush's dishonesty when it comes to refugees.


Take, for example, Ms. Rush's recent report on the UN's Role in U.S. Refugee Resettlement, where she claims that the "United States is entrusting the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with the entire selection and pre-screening process of Syrian refugees eligible for resettlement in the United States" (the emphasis is mine). The implication is that the UN determines who comes to the U.S. as a refugee. This is completely false. The UN refers refugees to the U.S. government, which then independently screens them and performs background checks (I've written about this process here). Ms. Rush's fear-mongering and dishonesty about Syrian refugees suggests that her motivation is to score political points, regardless of the facts.


Frankly, I am not particularly bothered by Ms. Rush attending the Asylum Division meeting under false pretenses and then writing about it. I happen to believe (like her, I think) that the system should be more transparent. What bothers me is that she would attend the meeting and then deliberately distort what she heard.


As I have written before, there are legitimate arguments for limiting the number of refugees and asylum seekers we admit into the United States. We as a country should be discussing these issues, and organizations like CIS have an important role to play in that conversation. But when CIS distorts the facts in order to advance its argument, it impoverishes the debate and damages its own credibility. Hopefully, in the future, CIS and Ms. Rush will be more responsible and more honest as we continue to discuss this important topic.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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Comments

  1. AmericanGuy's Avatar
    How is a researcher suddenly labeled a journalist and "spy"? And yet an immigration lawyer is using a blog to voice his opinion, how is he not a "journalist" as well? Seems like a double standard to me.
  2. JDzubow's Avatar
    It might be a double standard except for the fact that I did not attend the meeting with the idea of publicizing what was discussed, I did not lie about who I was, and I did not lie about the content of the meeting. Otherwise, there is no difference.
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