When 10,000 refugees come pouring into America later this year under President Barack Obama’s order, some of them could well be terrorists.
That’s the fear of Louis “Don” Crocetti Jr., the former fraud detection chief at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who now runs the consulting firm Immigration Integrity Group. He said the Islamic State has vowed to infiltrate the U.S. homeland, and slipping in as refugees seeking asylum is easily possible.
“Asylum fraud — it’s double-digit rates,” Crocetti told Lifezette. “There’s a significant amount of fraud in all of the immigration benefits programs, and this has the most of all of them.”
While he said the government has an adequate system to screen asylum seekers, he added that information vital to making a sound decision often does not exist. Worse, terrorists have become more savvy. They know to send people who do not have criminal records or other triggers that would raise red flags.
“It’s only as good as the information in the database,” Crocetti said. “It’s not the process that concerns me. It’s the information that’s being vetted.”
To Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, the holes in the asylum system result in part from policy choices.
“Our asylum policies have become subject to ever increasing levels of abuse, largely due to the Obama administration’s pattern of rubber-stamping ‘credible fear’ claims and asylum cases,” he said in a statement to LifeZette. “Instead of detaining asylum seekers while the government determines whether their cases are legitimate, the Obama Administration simply releases them into the United States.”
Jan Ting, a Temple University Beasley School of Law professor in Philadelphia, said a trend toward accepting more asylum requests fits with a broader goal of the government to expand immigration.
“The Obama administration, of course, has been encouraging more adjudications in favor of asylum,” he said.
Most refugees who make it to the United States are peaceful and law-abiding. But some have turned to terrorism:
- The family of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev came to the country from Chechnya through asylum.
- Ahmed Abassi, a Tunisian refugee, was implicated in a plot to release a bacterial agent in a major municipal water system hoping to kill more than 100,000 Americans.
- The FBI in 2009 broke up an alleged al-Qaida cell in Kentucky. Two refugees later admitted they had attacked U.S. soldiers in Iraq. After that, the FBI reported that several dozen suspected terrorist bomb-makers, including some believed to have targeted American troops, may have mistakenly been allowed to move to the United States as war refugees.
Ting said the United States also faces potential risks from the children of refugees who resettle in the United States. He noted that a number of U.S.-raised children of Somalians have joined the Muslim jihadi group al-Shabaab.
“Even if we get it right all the time [when screening applicants], there is no assurance that the children aren’t going to grow up resentful and hostile to the United States,” he said. “You can’t screen out the next generation.”
The United States and other Western nations have been under pressure from human rights groups to solve the humanitarian crisis. Crocetti said the “volume of the refugees and the haste” with which the process will occur will present steep challenges.
Fraught With Fraud
Then there are more mundane, run-of-the-mill fraud concerns. Evidence suggests people who otherwise would not qualify for asylum game the system.
When Crocetti was at the USCIS, the agency reviewed a random sample of 206 asylum applications filed during a six-month period in 2005 and found that up to 70 percent of them possibly were fraudulent. A 2009 internal report, marked “draft,” found that 12 percent of cases reviewed contained clear evidence of fraud. In some cases, government officials in charge of making asylum decisions missed the evidence or failed to use available tools. Another 58 percent of cases reviewed had indications of possible fraud but could not be determined conclusively.
Crocetti said many types of immigration fraud are easily detectable in an investigation. Investigators, for instance, usually can ferret out phony marriage.
But he said there are inherent limitations in identifying asylum fraud. Records might not be easily attainable. He said U.S. officials often cannot confer with the local government to verify information because if the persecution claim is valid, doing so might expose the applicant’s relatives to retribution.
Possessing forged documents also is not an automatic disqualification, because people fleeing persecution often must rely on subterfuge to make it to safety.
“It’s much, much more difficult to verify facts, so you pretty much have to rely on the person making the claim,” Crocetti said.
The United States has a long history, dating to the resettlement of 250,000 displaced Europeans following World War II, of taking in people fleeing oppression. But the law sets narrow grounds for asylum. Applicants most prove they have a “well-founded” fear of persecution based on one of five criteria — race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
“The fact that you are fleeing generalized violence and instability does not qualify you fas a refugee,” Ting said.
But the United States has seen a large increase in the number of illegal immigrants seeking asylum to avoid deportation.
Ruth Ellen Wasem, an immigration policy specialist for the Congressional Research Service, testified in December 2013 before the House Judiciary Committee that the number of people facing removal proceedings who claimed a “well-founded fear of persecution” increased from 13,931 in fiscal year 2012 to 36,026 in fiscal year 2013.
Wasem also testified that those claims are succeeding at higher rates, jumping from 73 percent in fiscal year 2010 to 85 percent in fiscal year 2013.
More illegal immigrants are getting lawyers, who “leave no stone unturned” in trying to prevent their clients from being deported.
Robert MacDonald, mayor of Lewistown, Maine, said his town has seen a large number of foreigners claiming asylum. Unlike resettled refugees brought in from other countries, he said, the food, shelter and medical costs of people fighting deportation falls on local taxpayers.
He said many came to the country on tourist visas and then claimed they would be persecuted if forced to return.
“If your life is in such danger, how do you get time to get visa?” MacDonald asked. “They look about as abused as John D. Rockefeller. … Common sense tells you there’s some fraud.”
Ting said more illegal immigrants are getting lawyers, who “leave no stone unturned” in trying to prevent their clients from being deported. Even without lawyers, he said, the Internet makes it easy for people to research the requirements for asylum.