Asylum Officers: Truth vs. Personal Ideology

Apparently, the asylum officer corps at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services needs collective re-training on our nation’s obligations relating to the protection of the persecuted. Of late, the press has been filled with an alarming amount of commentary from asylum officers who blatantly substitute their ideologically-driven opinions for basic principles of domestic and international asylum law.

The most recent of these pieces appeared in Buzzfeed, citing an unnamed asylum officer commenting on a new Trump administration regulation, which renders ineligible for asylum any applicants who cross through a third country on the way to the U.S., but don’t seek protection there.

The anonymous officer says of the new policy, “It’s facially illegal. I mean, I don’t personally plan to [enforce it]. If it’s not enjoined … I will ask for other duties, I guess. I need this job, but my oath of office won’t allow me to make adjudications contrary to the law.” She should probably read-up on the law before making such statements.

Far from being contrary to the law, the requirement the Trump administration has promulgated through its new regulation is enshrined in international jurisprudence as “the safe third country” or “country of first asylum” concepts.  In fact, a document from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, makes explicit reference to both concepts, “whose lawfulness is presumed on the grounds that protection has already been found or can be found elsewhere.”

International law recognizes a right to request asylum from a country where the applicant will not be subject to persecution. It does not acknowledge a right to seek protection only from specific states in which the applicant would prefer to reside. Attempting to gain asylum from a particular country after passing through several other safe countries is known as “asylum shopping.”

The most common way of discouraging asylum shopping is by implementing multilateral safe third country treaties. The best known example of this type of agreement is the European Union’s Dublin Regulation. According to the European Court of Justice, the Dublin Regulation mandates that, “Refugees seeking asylum in European countries must do so in the first country they reach, even in exceptional circumstances.”

However, bilateral agreements – such as the Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement – are also common. And there is nothing in domestic or international law that prohibits a nation from implementing the safe third country concept unilaterally, through policy or legislation. That is unsurprising. As detailed by Swiss legal scholar Emer de Vattel, way back in 1797, international law recognizes a right to leave, and return to, one’s own country. However, there is no concomitant right to enter another country.

It’s bad enough that the mainstream media is so pathologically anti-Trump that it is trolling for disgruntled federal employees to push its bogus “oppression of migrants” narrative. But it is truly unconscionable that not a single editor or fact-checker has bothered to determine whether the things being said by those spewing manufactured outrage are even close to being accurate.

Both the USCIS asylum corps and the popular press need to rediscover the difference between truth and personal ideology.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar
    Don Richardson on

    When it comes to the left-wing media, the ‘truth’ is flexible. They think that whatever a person believes is “their truth”. And even if those in the media know that something is false or misleading, if it fits their agenda they will not only publish it but promote it.

  2. avatar
    Charles Moakler on

    I see nothing new here. I have talked to many federal workers who know nothing of the law, not even the law that empowers their position. One day someone sat them down and explained their duties and to the extent they listened that is what they know.

    • avatar
      Don Richardson on

      Sad but true. Many law enforcement officers have not been trained in the details of the law. And if they don’t know what it says, but hear something else repeated frequently on the ‘news’, they may believe that what is said on the ‘news’ is actually factually correct.

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