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.