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Are Asylum Seekers Abusing The System?

Credit: Congressional Research Service

This graph shows the rise in credible fear claims.

Aired 12/13/13 on KPBS News.

The number of people seeking asylum in the United States more than doubled this year, raising suspicion among some members of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Thursday to question whether some asylum seekers are abusing the system.

The number of people seeking asylum in the United States more than doubled this year, raising suspicion among some members of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Thursday to question whether some asylum seekers are abusing the system.

According to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service, in 2012 nearly 14,000 immigrants set for deportation said their lives would be endangered if they returned home. This year that number shot up to 36,000. Immigration officials call this a 'credible fear' claim. This claim can begin an application for asylum.

The sudden surge of these claims concerns members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Republican Trey Gowdy.

"It is impossible to explain to the people we work for anything other than someone has found a way to game the system," Gowdy said during Thursday's hearing.

Republican members cited a leaked government memo detailing a case where a women was granted asylum and later arrested at a checkpoint with $1 million worth of cocaine.

Government witnesses, however, said they didn't know why credible fear claims increased so sharply in the last year. Ruth Wasem, with the Congressional Research Service, said more evidence is needed.

"An increase in asylum or credible fear claims in and of itself, does not signify an increase in abuse of the asylum process," she said.

Under a 2009 directive by former Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton, asylum seekers who meet certain requirements can be released from detention and given a work permit while their case is pending in court. Those eligible for release must not be a threat to national security, have proof of their nationality and not pose a flight risk.

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