Executive Summary

With beginnings rooted in international norms, our domestic asylum law provides that any person at a port of entry to the United States who claims credible and reasonable fear about returning to her home country is afforded some due process in America. If she can establish that she meets the standards for an asylum seeker, she may be able to obtain asylum status, which can eventually translate into permanent residence.

Our asylum law is contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the Refugee Act of 1980, which brought the United States into compliance with two iconic United Nations agreements, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which reaffirmed Articles 2-34 of the Refugee Convention. Subsequent statutes, regulations, court rulings, and administrative rules make up the remainder of our asylum law. But asylum is becoming an increasingly divisive and misunderstood issue in the United States. Despite a rich history of international and domestic law that protects asylum seekers in this country, feverish nationalism and unsubstantiated national security and public safety concerns are threatening the asylum process. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle countries—Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—prompts debate over affording asylum status to the growing number of individuals, many of them children, seeking asylum in America by traveling to the southwestern border.

Significant problems exist with our current system, but it is not fraught with fraud and abuse. First and foremost, the United States must tackle the backlog of asylum cases in immigration courts by reforming procedural and administrative processes and improving oversight, and by better accommodating the increasing number of unaccompanied children appearing at the border with asylum claims. Congress, in coordination with the White House and its agencies, must fix the problems legislatively.

Read the full policy brief here.