The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration of the Department of State and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security co-hosted a background press briefing on June 3, 2010 on U.S. refugee and asylum-seeker resettlement programs. The discussion was held in advance of World Refugee Day, June 20, 2010.
The speakers gave basic background information on refugee and asylum issues and answered journalists’ questions (for purposes of this briefing, your humble blogger was considered a journalist). The speakers explained that refugees were people outside the United States who had suffered past persecution or who had a well-founded fear of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group. Asylum seekers are people who are in the United States (or at the border) who claim that they are refugees. A few points that I thought were interesting:
Most refugees come to the U.S. from Iraq, Bhutan (via Nepal), and Burma (via Thailand and Malaysia). The top three countries that accept refugees are the United States, Canada, and Australia. The number of refugees resettled in the U.S. has increased 25% from last fiscal year.
For cases heard at the eight Asylum Offices in the U.S., a supervisor reviews every case. Certain sensitive cases are reviewed by headquarters. Asylum Officers receive an initial six weeks of training and then four hours of training each week. Officers are trained to identify fraudulent documents.
USCIS is working on a system to share biometric data with other countries; Canada in particular. Presumably, the purpose of this is to determine whether the asylum applicant previously filed for asylum in another country and was rejected.
Violence along the Mexican border has caused some Mexicans to seek asylum at the border (though over the past few years, the number of Mexican asylum seekers has been dropping). In the first six months of FY 2010, 233 Mexican nationals expressed a fear of persecution at the border. Of those, 84 were deemed to have a “credible fear” and were referred to an Immigration Judge for an asylum hearing. We can assume that the other 149 people were found not to have a credible fear of persecution and were removed under the expedited removal rules.
If you are wondering, I asked about a problem I have heard about from a number of clients and clients’ family members. When an alien expresses a fear of return to her country, the ICE or CBP officer is supposed to refer the person for a credible fear interview with a USCIS Asylum Officer. Apparently in some cases where a detained alien, or an alien at the border, expresses a fear of persecution, the ICE officer tries to convince the alien to sign papers agreeing to removal, and to not make a claim for asylum. I have heard about this from different sources, though many of the people involved are expressing a fear of persecution by criminal gangs in Central America. The USCIS spokesperson was not aware of the problem and indicated that ICE and CBP officers are supposed to refer such cases for credible fear interviews.