Grassley’s Baseless Claims Put to Rest by Napolitano, Current Asylum System’s Protections

Washington, D.C. – During today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on border security and immigration modernization, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano set the record straight after Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrongly claimed that proposed improvements to the current U.S. asylum system could make the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

“Secretary Napolitano’s thorough and thoughtful explanation of the careful screening mechanisms used to review asylum claims should give Americans great confidence in our current system,” said Human Rights First’s Sara Jane Ibrahim. “Our nation has a long history of providing refuge to victims of religious, political, ethnic, and other forms of persecution.  The asylum provisions in the immigration bill will actually strengthen the asylum system by improving its efficiency and ensuring that this country does not deny asylum to genuine refugees who have fled from persecution.”

In the wake of the Boston bombing and the swift response to it, Human Rights First notes that many lawmakers have echoed Secretary Napolitano’s support for the current system and issued statements that run counter to Senator Grassley’s comments. These lawmakers have called for calm and urged their colleagues to not use the events of last week as an excuse to delay passing immigration reforms. For example, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said last week, “In general, we’re a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has their fingerprints, photos, etcetera, conducted background checks.” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) added over the weekend that national security concerns should result in lawmakers acting “quicker, not slower” to pass immigration reform. Yesterday, the White House confirmed that one of the positive effects of passing immigration reform is how it will enhance national security and they called on Congress to act to pass legislation as soon as possible. At today’s hearing, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) strongly emphasized that nothing in the bill weakens the authority of DHS to screen those seeking asylum, and Secretary Napolitano concurred.

Human Rights First notes that among the mechanisms in place to prevent abuse of the asylum system and protect national security are steps such as:

  • mandatory biographical checks using the applicant’s name, date of birth, and aliases in various databases including those maintained by USCIS, CPB, ICE, the Department of State and the FBI;
  • mandatory biometric checks using the applicant’s fingerprints and photograph including FBI fingerprint check, US-VISIT, and Department of Defense/ABIS vetting for certain applicants;
  • additional biographical screening by National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) of all asylum applicants starting in August 2011;
  • mandatory supervisory review of all asylum decisions;
  • full-time Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) officers, stationed at each asylum office, who conduct in-depth vetting on cases with national security concerns, including liaising with Joint Terrorism Task Forces on these cases, and also monitor asylum caseload for fraud;  and
  • U.S. immigration laws prohibit granting asylum and any form of refugee protection to a wide range of individuals including any person who has engaged in terrorist activity, is a representative of a foreign terrorist organization, or otherwise poses a threat to the security of the United States.

“Getting immigration reform right is not a partisan issue, and it has been reassuring to see lawmakers and administration officials reiterate that sentiment in recent days,” said Ibrahim. “This is exactly the kind of leadership we need to see if we’re going to pass a bill that upholds America’s values as it seeks to strengthen national security.”

For more information about the U.S. asylum system and the protections already contained within the law, see our Fact Sheets: The basics of U.S. Asylum Law and Bars and Security Screening in the Asylum and Refugee Processes.


Published on April 23, 2013


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