PolitiFact: Asylum cases rising rapidly

President Donald Trump argued that immigrants entering illegally are gaming the American immigration system, citing a remarkable rise in asylum applications.

He said some asylum-seekers are abusing the process with criminal intentions.

“There’s been a 1,700 percent increase in asylum claims over the last 10 years,” Trump said in a June 19 speech. “Think of that. Think of that. We’re a great country but you can’t do that. Smugglers know how the system works. They game the system; they game it.”

Has there been a 1,700 percent increase in asylum claims?

The numbers stack up. But the claims of gaming the system are less supported.

Trump is talking about “credible fear” cases for asylum, which is spelled out in the Refugee Act of 1980. It’s available for people unable or unwilling to return to their home country “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Migrants who are apprehended or unable to enter the country legally can claim “credible fear” to get a hearing before an immigration court.

The Homeland Security Department tracks cases in which a decision to grant a hearing has been made, which differs only slightly from the number of all claims made.

In 2007, 5,171 people claimed credible fear and had their cases reviewed.

In 2016, it was 91,786.

That represents a 1,675 percent increase, basically as Trump claimed.

Between 60 and 80 percent of those cases were approved for further court review. Overall, 20 percent of applicants were ultimately granted asylum in fiscal 2017, the Homeland Security Department told us.

But that doesn’t mean asylum-seekers are gaming the system. The majority have valid claims of fear in their home countries, experts told us.

Louis DeSipio, a University of California-Irvine political science professor who specializes in immigration, told us that while more people are affirmatively expressing their right to apply for asylum, their claims are not necessarily without merit.

“Initially, a lot of migration was single males from Mexico coming for work, and now you’re seeing a shift to Central American families fleeing record levels of violence in the northern triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, said Joshua Breisblatt, a senior policy analyst at the American Immigration Council. “There is no indication that that’s an increase in fraud; that’s just something that is happening in the United States’ backyard.”

Asylum requests by citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras made up 72.9 percent of total claims in fiscal 2016.

“Our laws are clear,” said Kate Voigt, associate director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “If you express a fear of returning to your home country, you have a right to a credible fear screening. If the asylum officer finds you have a credible fear of persecution in your home country, then you have a right to have an immigration judge hear your case.”

Under the last several administrations, Customs and Border Protection increased its use of expedited removal, according to Lenni Benson, a New York Law School law professor. Given the only way to stop an expedited removal order is to seek a credible fear review, Benson said this might explain the rise in numbers.

As we noted, the overall rate for granting asylum applications nationwide was 20 percent in fiscal 2017, a percentage that hasn’t changed much since 2012.

But Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government who has interviewed hundreds of migrants for immigration research, said the variation in numbers between case approvals and asylum application approvals does not prove fraud, either.

To get their cases of asylum initially approved, immigrants arriving illegally must fill out a survey to show whether their conditions qualify under the definition of persecution. To prove they merit asylum, they must show evidence they often lack before a court.

The United States also has narrowed its standards for asylum under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, DeSipio said, precluding victims of domestic abuse and gang violence from qualifying for asylum.

Our ruling:

Trump said, “There’s been a 1,700 percent increase in asylum claims over the last 10 years.”

There was a 1,675 percent increase in asylum claims reviewed by the Homeland Security Department from 2008 to 2017. But that does not evidence fraud, as Trump suggested. Record levels of violence and persecution abroad largely explain the rise in asylum claims, experts told us.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

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