A recent report from the Congressional Research Service concludes that “data analysis of six selected countries (the PRC, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, and Mexico) suggests that conditions in the source countries are likely the driving force behind asylum seekers.” These six countries represent the majority of asylum seekers coming to the U.S., and the new report is significant for several reasons.
First, critics of the asylum system claim that it is a backdoor for economic migrants and that many asylum cases are fraudulent. While fraud is a problem and economic conditions certainly affect the flow of migrants (including asylum seekers), the CRS report lends support to pro-asylum types (such as myself), who believe that most asylum seekers are fleeing persecution and repression in their homelands.
Second, since CRS is the organization tasked with supporting “the Members, committees, and leaders of the House and Senate at all stages of the legislative process,” its policy papers are influential in shaping legislation. Maybe it is naive to believe that ideologues in Congress will consider the new report when making policy, but at least those in the pro-asylum camp will have some new data to help make their arguments.
Finally, there are a couple of asylum-related issues pending in the current Congress. One is the Refugee Protection Act, which offers some new protections to asylum seekers. The CRS report mentions the RFA, and seems to have been written with that bill in mind. The RFA has been floating around the Senate for over a year, and no progress seems forthcoming. However, Zoe Lofgren–a great advocate for protecting immigrants–introduced a companion bill in the House last month. So perhaps we will see some action on this front.
The other piece of asylum-related news in Congress is Senator Rand Paul’s hearing on terrorism and asylum. Senator Paul called for hearings after two Iraqi refugees were arrested on terrorism charges (I wrote about this here). The hearing is scheduled for July 13, 2011. The CRS report is relevant to this hearing as well. Although there are legitimate concerns related to national security and asylum, the instances of asylum seekers or refugees committing (or being accused of) terrorist acts are extremely rare. The report shows that many asylum seekers are genuine refugees who face persecution in their home countries. The Senate should keep this in mind when balancing national security with our humanitarian and moral responsibilities.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.