Dirty Immigration Lawyers? Not that I know of

Attorney General Jeff Sessions just had his Remarks to the Executive Office for Immigration Review published today.

Sessions placed the blame for the US immigration problems firmly on the shoulders of “smart attorneys” who create “fraud and abuse in our asylum system” and “exploite(d) loopholes in the law, court rulings, and lack of resources (so they could) substantially undermine the intent of Congress,” specifically through the abuse of  the system set up for asylum seekers. 

We have a generous asylum policy that is meant to protect those who, through no fault of their own, cannot co-exist in their home country no matter where they go because of persecution based on fundamental things like their religion or nationality.  Unfortunately, this system is currently subject to rampant abuse and fraud. And as this system becomes overloaded with fake claims, it cannot deal effectively with just claims.  The surge in trials, hearings, appeals, bond proceedings has been overwhelming.

He then goes on to say: “The system is being gamed.  The credible fear process was intended to be a lifeline for persons facing serious persecution.  But it has become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States.”

Asylum is not an “easy ticket” to illegal entry into the US

In my two-plus decades as an immigration lawyer I have had the honor of helping those who were escaping persecution from violent and dangerous situations.

Asylum is not an easy or quick way into the US. It’s not easy to prove credible fear.

Political asylum certainly isn’t a front line approach to getting into the country. In fact it is often a LAST approach that we discuss with people who are truly afraid for their lives if facing a return to their homelands.

Jeff Sessions does cite a recent case with a Somali man who “gamed” the system, but in my experience this would very much be very much the exception rather than a rule.

“Dirty Immigration Lawyers and their magic words”

Sessions then went on to say:

We also have dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process.

So…magic words? Lawyers don’t have a list of “magic words” in our back pockets that make all their cases go through. I wish it were that easy! We spend YEARS learning the law, and then YEARS practicing law in order to be successful for our clients. It’s called a practice for a reason.

Sessions calls the immigration system inherently flawed…

This is a compassionate country—and lawfully admits more immigrants than any country in the world.  But we must recognize that our generous system is being terribly abused.  As one immigration judge recently told me about the credible fear process, “any adjudicatory system with a grant rate of nearly 90 percent is inherently flawed.”

The President Trump understands this is a crisis. And so do the American people.

But as pastor and fellow lawyer Scott Hicks pointed out: So, can we assume then that the Immigration Judges who have a 90% or more denial rate are also inherently flawed?

No system is perfect but attacking a system with people who are the most at risk, based on a few bad stories, is going to do more harm than good.

Every system is going to have those that are trying to take advantage, but the immense amount of good that our “compassionate country” does with its asylum laws as a place for those seeking a better and safer life is worth it.

I have seen first hand the young women saved from trafficking or young men saved from gang violence who have been able to seek asylum in this country. Let’s not take that away.



Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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