Asylum Decisions Must Be Guided by the Law

At one time in my career as a foreign service officer I was assigned consular work approving or rejecting immigrant and nonimmigrant visa requests. I found that it is not easy to tell a visa applicant that he/she is not eligible for a visa. But I nevertheless did so when I concluded that is what the immigration law required. What was needed was objectivity.

This memory was evoked by a commentary published in the Washington Post on July 21 by an asylum officer.

An asylum officer screens foreigners applying to enter the United States like consular officers. The difference is that the criteria for an asylum decision ignores most of the criteria for exclusion of aliens in the immigration law and centers mainly on whether the alien has or will face persecution if sent back to (or in some cases not allowed to flee) the home country. It similarly is a tough job telling an aspiring asylum-seeker that he/she is not eligible. And, similarly, it requires objectivity.

So, it was unsettling to have this asylum officer profess “I became an asylum officer to help people. Now I put them back in harm’s way.” This officer has been in this job for 26 years – since the asylum corps was created, and he states he joined because “I thought that this could be a way to help people, while fighting for what I thought America should be: a beacon of freedom, offering refuge to those in need.”

Those are noble sentiments, but they raise in question whether this individual has an objective view of his responsibility to screen out and send back home those aliens who do not meet the criteria of the law.

Data indicate that roughly 80 percent of visa applicants already in the U.S. who come before an immigration judge for a decision on their asylum claim are found ineligible. It is not clear how many of those aliens have been screened first by an asylum officer, but it suggests that the asylum officers are not an effective impediment to fraudulent asylum claims. It also suggests that the immigration judges, who also are required to make tough decisions affecting the aliens’ ability to gain legal residence in the United States, are better at objectively applying the law.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar

    If It Wasn’t for Trump’s Tariff’s Demands on Mexico

    We’d be a sinking Titanic in illegal refugee human smuggling minors [many sex slaves] and phony refugee thugs from Central America [with backpacks of white powder] by now…

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  3. avatar

    He should not even be an asylum officer because he ignores what the law says and what his job is supposed to be. He’s better qualified for some immigration advocacy group that wants open borders because that seems to be what he wants. He assumes that anyone he denies will be sent back “in harm’s way” when the overwhelming amount of the time the person is coming for economic reasons. And even general unrest in a country is not grounds to be let in.

    It’s the media that constantly puts forth these false stories that they run with for days and never address the real facts afterward. Several months ago all the pearl clutchers were aghast about the sobbing 2 year old who was supposedly separated from her mother by the border patrol. But that never happened, it was merely the claim of the photographer and when her husband back home with the rest of the kids was interviewed he said she came here to get a better job and thought the kid would be her ticket in. In other words she dragged the kid on a dangerous journey to get ahead financially. It’s the parent’s, and the coyotes they send them with sometimes, who put those kids “in harm’s way”.

    Same thing a couple weeks back with the father who drowned with the 2 year old crossing the river. Both his mother and wife said he had a job back home, was not in any danger, and he wanted to come here to earn money quickly to buy a house in his home country. Unfortunate but not our problem or responsibility. We can’t save the world.