Asylum “Country Shopping” is Coming Back — Here’s Why That’s a Problem

The southern border may face a surge in fraudulent asylum cases after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court in D.C. struck down the Trump administration’s rule requiring asylum seekers to request asylum in another country before applying in the United States.

The 9th Circuit found that the rule “does virtually nothing to ensure that a third country is a safe option” and is a strain on organization resources, while D.C. District Court Judge Timothy J. Kelly’s argued that the rule violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and requirements in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

While the rulings may appear technical and trivial, they bring significant ramifications.

The Trump administration originally crafted its “Safe Third Country” rule to curb the number of meritless asylum-seekers at the southern border. In May 2019, immigration authorities apprehended more than 144,000 individuals, which was the highest total for a month in roughly a decade.

The surge in apprehensions was mainly attributed to Central American migrants looking to exploit the nation’s asylum system to enter the United States. Rather than apply for asylum in the “first safe county” they arrive in—-which is mandated under several international laws—the vast majority “country shop”, meaning they bypass other countries to come to the U.S. as it offers the best economic conditions for them.

Under U.S. asylum law, an individual may only qualify for asylum if they are persecuted by their government based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership to a particular social group. But using asylum as a means to seek better wages while sidestepping other countries is not how the system was ever envisioned to operate. 

This trend is best explained by two recent findings. A poll by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) finds that 91.1 percent of Guatemalan migrants who migrate to the U.S. do so in search for better economic opportunities. A second finding reveals that immigration courts have denied the vast majority of asylum claims in recent years—meaning that it is likely most applications do not meet the standards for asylum in the United States.

But it doesn’t matter if the vast majority of asylum claims are fraudulent—migrants in the nation’s asylum system are quickly released from detention due to coronavirus concerns, existing detention laws, and a more than a one million court case backlog. They are likely never to be seen again after they file their initial claim.

Now that migrants are legally allowed and encouraged to “country shop,” there is no reason not to believe the southern border would experience surges in apprehension totals and fraudulent asylum claims in the near future. The U.S. offers lucrative economic opportunities and is likely to release individuals from detention.

Immigration officials simply do not have the resources to accommodate a similar number of migrants who arrived to the border in 2019—especially during coronavirus and after House Democrats just voted to strip away more resources from them. 

Under the guise of protecting those seeking asylum in the United States, these rulings create new opportunities for fraudulent asylum seekers to abuse the system and paralyze our judicial process. If these rulings are not reversed by the Supreme Court, or by congressional action to plug loopholes, the losers stand to be the American people and legitimate asylum seekers whose cases will likely be mired in ever-growing backlogs.

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