Lankford Highlights Biden Admin’s Acceptance of Completely Broken Asylum Process
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK), lead Republican of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management, today spoke on the Senate floor on the national security threat at our US-Mexico border and the threats posed by the ongoing abuse of our nation’s asylum process. Lankford brought up his Q&A last week with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during the annual “Threats to the Homeland” hearing in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Lankford highlighted that Senate Republicans are releasing their official proposal to address the issues with reasonable changes to the asylum process that remove the loopholes the dangerous criminal cartels in Mexico are exploiting to move people into the US so they can make millions of dollars from human smuggling.
Lankford said everyone agrees that the asylum process and related processes are being abused in our nation—including and especially the Biden Administration. As Senate Democrats continue to say that Homeland Security just needs “more money” to solve the wide open border, Lankford continued to affirm today more that money will not solve our broken border security and immigration system and that instead we need real policy changes.
There’s been a lot of conversation around this body, quite frankly around the nation, about border security. Rightfully so. It’s been top of mind for a lot of cities, states, a lot of families, school districts, businesses, especially along the border states as they’ve had a disproportionately large number of people that have come, many of them from all over the world, many of them non-Spanish speakers, not from Central America and South America, but literally from everywhere.
The Wall Street Journal had a piece just this weekend where it details how hundreds of thousands of migrants from all over the world are making their way to the southwest border, which is causing a surge in apprehensions, but it’s especially from people from Asia and Africa. ‘Human smuggling networks,’ it says, ‘are widening their reach around the globe. Arrests at the southwest border of migrants from China, India, and other distant countries, including Mauritania and Senegal, tripled to 214,000 during the fiscal year that he ended in September. That was up from 70,000 just the year before.’ That is tripling that number.
What’s happening is on our southern border, the cartels are finding it more profitable to be able to move people from even farther. And so they’re organizing flights for people to go through seven or eight countries to be able to then arrive in Mexico, and they’re moving them through in what they call ‘donkey flights’ to be able to reach farther for the cartels to be able to make more and to exploit our laws.
America’s always been open to people and immigration. We’re a nation of legal immigrants. But we’re also a nation of laws, and what we’re finding at this stage is that those laws are being exploited, and being exploited dramatically. Let me give you an example.
There’s been no change in the asylum law since 2010, but in 2010, we had 21,000 people request asylum on our southern border for the year—21,000 the entire year of 2010. And that wasn’t anomaly. That was about a normal amount of people requesting asylum on our southwest border. Now we have that many request asylum on our southwest border every three days. So it’s gone from 21,000 in a year to now every three days. Everyone knows this is an issue.
Last week Secretary Mayorkas was in front of the Homeland Security Committee, and I asked him about this in a public hearing. I asked him whether there were policy changes that were needed. His answer was very direct. He said, ‘Yes, policy changes are needed.’ I asked him specifically on reforming the asylum system, knowing that that’s been exploited, his exact answer was, ‘The asylum system needs to be reformed from top to bottom.’ I asked him about the issue of withholding of removal, which now about 55 percent of the people that were released in the country are actually released under something called withholding of removal. I asked him about that. His response was, ‘Withholding of removal and the companion element is the convention against torture. Our system needs to be able to work efficiently and expeditiously while not compromising due process.’
I asked him about repatriating individuals in difficult countries that are called ‘recalcitrant.’ He said, ‘Our ability to repatriate individuals into the country of origin when they do not qualify under relief under our laws is a vital importance.’ Why am I bringing this up? Because it’s not just me saying we need to reform the asylum process. The head of Homeland Security is saying we need to reform this process. And it’s not just the head of Homeland Security saying we need to reform the asylum process. It is the Administration.
Two weeks ago the Administration requested additional dollars for the border to be able to put in the supplemental. They asked for funding for Israel, for Ukraine, for Taiwan, and for border security, but then after they put that request out, Homeland Security actually released out an op-ed into The Washington Post, which, it said this, ‘To be clear, the supplemental funding is like a tourniquet, urgently needed and critical in the short term but not a long-term solution to a deep-seated problem. Our national immigration system having last gone through a major revision by Congress in 1996, are severely out of date, and our system is completely broken. On this everyone agrees.’
The Administration itself just this past March put out a release dealing with what they call ‘circumvention of lawful pathways.’ In it, they did a Q&A back and forth with people that asked questions on how it would function. This is one of the answers from the Administration talking about what’s happening currently at our border. They said, ‘Such a high rate of migration risks overwhelming the Department’s ability to effectively process, detain, and remove as appropriate the migrants encountered. This puts an enormous strain on already strained resources, risks overcrowding in already overcrowded US Border Patrol stations and border ports of entry in ways that pose significant health and safety concerns and create a situation in which large numbers of migrants, only a small portion of whom are likely to be granted asylum, are subject to extreme exploitation by the networks that support their movements north.’ I’d be glad to have written that myself.
The Administration sees the same thing that everyone else who looks at the border sees. If you take an honest assessment of what’s happening: our system is being exploited by cartels and people from around the world are answering ads that are on TikTok and messaging services saying, ‘I can get you into the United States if you pay me enough money.’ That’s why 45,000 people from India came last year requesting asylum in the United States because it’s easier to get in to pay the cartels than it is to go through the legal process, and we are incentivizing illegal activity. And this body knows it.
For a nation of laws, we should prioritize the law. We should be open to legal immigration, but we should be opposed to illegal immigration and what’s happening to enrich deadly, dangerous criminal cartels in northern Mexico. Again the Administration in their public statement they made this statement just a few months ago, ‘The current asylum system in which most migrants who are initially deemed legible to pursue their claims ultimately are not granted asylum in the subsequent immigration court proceedings. That’s contributed to a growing backlog of cases awaiting review by asylum officers and immigration judges.’
What are they saying? The system is broken because it’s packed with people who do not actually qualify for asylum coming in to flood the system and request asylum.
We all see the challenge. Now, the question is are we going to do something about it?
Republicans in the Senate this past weekend released a very simple proposal to deal with what we all know are the problems, closing the loopholes in the law that have been exploited. And, yes, it deals with asylum, and yes, it deals with withholding because those are the areas that are being exploited. We see it. The Administration sees it. The question is, do Democrat Senators see it? That’s really the issue now. Everyone else seems to see it and admit to it.
So what did we propose? We’ve proposed some pretty straightforward things. One is what’s called ‘safe third-country transit.’ These are individuals—like I take the 45,000 people that came from India last year. They fly through four or five countries, including dangerous countries like France to be able to land here and to be able to then cross the border and to say, ‘I need to find asylum.’ Almost everyone sees that as an exploitation. And it’s not just us. There’s almost no other country that does what we do.
This whole issue about picking and choosing where I want to request asylum is not how asylum really works. You see, asylum under international law, most people in this body know it, asylum and refugee has the same definition in international law. A refugee doesn’t pick nine different countries and then pick the one they want. They flee to the next safe place. That’s the same national rule for asylum.
If you were to request asylum right now in asylum, cross the border in Canada and request asylum, you know what the first question they would ask you? The first question they would ask you is: did you just cross from the United States? If you answer yes, they would say, ‘Did you request asylum there and were you denied?’ If they say, ‘I didn’t request asylum,’ Canada would turn you right back around, and that’s not just Canada. That’s most of the EU. If you went to Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech republic, to France to Germany to Hungary to Ireland to Luxembourg, to the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia to the UK—if you went to any of those, they would ask you, ‘What country did you transit through before you got here and did you request and were denied asylum before you came in?’ If you said, ‘I didn’t request asylum in the places I transited from,’ they would turn you around because that’s not an unreasonable thing.
When you go through five other countries and then request asylum in the last one, you’re actually trying to immigrate to that country, not requesting asylum under international law. You’re trying to pick the place, and by the way, I don’t blame them for picking America. It’s the greatest country in the world. But that’s economic opportunity. That’s not asylum.
So the question is, can we incentivize those individuals to not try to run a loophole through our system but to actually go through the legal process and request to come here as a legal immigrant. We’d love to see people from all over the world as we always have coming to the United States legally, just not exploiting a loophole in the asylum law. That’s the wrong way to be able to do it.
The bill that Republicans have proposed is also deals with streamlining the process. Right now, it can take up to ten years just to get a hearing with an immigration judge under a standard that most people know and the Administration has admitted people won’t qualify for asylum at the end. Why is that? Because when you come across the border, you encounter Border Patrol or CBP or asylum officer, They do an initial screening and the screening is far lower than the actual standard. So you may qualify under the screening standard, but everyone knows you’re not actually going to qualify for the actual standard for asylum.
So there’s two simple things that can be done here. One is make the screening standard equal to the actual standard to say we all know this is what you’ve got to achieve. So screen for that. Is it reasonable? Is it even 51 percent chance that you’re going to be able to get to that standard. If it is, then you come in. If you’re not, then you’re screened out.
The second thing is we actually have three different screenings. Many people don’t know this. But we screen for asylum, and then we separately screen for what’s called withholding. And then we separately screen for Convention Against Torture. Those three different screenings, maybe at three different times, sometimes across a decade of time. And everyone knows if you don’t qualify for the first one, you’re not likely going to qualify for the other two either, but you can request it and you can run that loophole and then you’re in the United States. And the cartels literally teach people exactly what to say in their last step so that they can exploit that loophole.
So let’s actually have the screening standard at the same standard that you’re going to have to get to, and let’s screen for all three of those things at the same time. That actually sounds like government efficiency. I know we’re not good at that as a nation, but if we screen for all three of those things at the same time, it allows somebody to get due process. We don’t want someone not to get due process. Someone that’s a victim of torture, we want to make sure they have the opportunity to be able to go through that process. But why wouldn’t we do all three of those at the same time, rather than across ten years of waiting for multiple different hearings?
Republicans also propose something pretty simple. Right now the law says that if you’ve committed a felony, then you’re not eligible for asylum. But the problem with that is, there are some crimes that are not considered a felony at the earliest days and we’re still allowing in. Let me give you a for instance. What if you’ve had three DUIs? What if you’re dealing meth? What if you’re in a gang and a member of a gang and they can show it? What if you have a domestic violence conviction?
Now, if you have a domestic violence conviction, you can’t own a firearm in America but you could get asylum in America, where we literally invite people to be able to come in that we already know have domestic violence convictions. So we’re making it pretty simple. We’re saying, ‘Hey, listen, let’s keep the standard where it is for a felony, but let’s actually prevent the loopholes.’ Why would we invite someone into the country that we know has had multiple DUI convictions? Why would we do that? It’s not safe for our streets.
Do any one of you want to sit down with a dad, and say your daughter was killed in a DUI because we were loose on our asylum rules? I would assume not. We’re not asking for something extreme again. Again, it’s typical for many places around the world that this is how it’s to be done. All we’re trying to be able to do is to fix the loopholes and to be able to secure our nation.
This proposal that we put forward keeps families together. And I know there’s going to be an immediate thing about, ‘This is about separating families at the border.’ Actually, no it’s very explicit that if families travel together, families stay together for their hearing to be able to make sure we’re protecting that family. But we’re also raising a simple question. We all know. We’ve have all seen the stories, and for those of us that have gone to the border, we have seen with our own eyes. Children traveling with adults that—we’re all parents and we can see clear enough—that’s not really your child, where children are literally used as a free pass to be able to get into the country and to be able to expedite. We’d like to be able to protect those children and make sure children are actually not used to be a free pass into the country. There’s a way to be able to prevent that and to be able to protect those families that are actually real families at the same time.
We do a couple of other things. We also raise just a very simple statement about the Border Patrol. Many people here may or may not know but the Border Patrol can’t actually get overtime if you’re at a certain level. If you’re other federal law enforcement, you do get overtime but if you’re Border Patrol, you are not. So these guys may work 100 hours in two weeks, but for the additional hours they’re working, they don’t actually get overtime pay. That’s not right.
So what happens is Border Patrol has a hard time with retention not because the job is incredibly difficult but because once they get to a certain level, their families encourage them, ‘Why don’t we do another federal law enforcement somewhere else, still stay in federal law enforcement, but we can actually earn overtime pay rather than being punished staying in the Border Patrol and trying to be able to serve. Why don’t we fix that? Why don’t we fix some of the training issues that have come up? Why don’t we actually try to respond to those things?
Why don’t we provide the opportunity for the Biden Administration to be able to lay out a strategy for how to secure the border. We’re not writing it. Just give them the opportunity to be able to do it. Here’s one thing that’s been interesting I’ve already heard a pushback from.
We have a section where we talk about the border wall. What’s interesting is what we actually proposed, we actually fulfill the border wall portion that President Biden has said he’s already going to do. We actually just want to put it in writing, so the President can’t say orally, ‘I want to do this.’ We want to actually put it in writing to be able to do it. That’s a reasonable thing to be able to do.
Listen, we’re not asking for crazy stuff. We’re asking for what Americans are asking for. Just secure the border. We want to be a nation that welcomes immigrants, but we also want to be a nation that honors the law. We can do both. That’s what we’re setting in front of this body, to say when we’re talking about the supplemental, let’s actually talk about not just securing Israel, securing Ukraine, and securing Taiwan. Let’s also secure the United States of America.