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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

U.S. should revamp asylum process

george r. nethercutt jr.

Immigration law needs an overhaul – it’s been 30 years since the last comprehensive immigration reform. Here’s a proposal.

First, Congress should repeal all current asylum and refugee status laws. Asylum is broadly defined by Webster’s as the protection granted by a nation to most anyone who has left their native country as a refugee. Such a broad definition gives a green light and false hope to too many. As the world situation changes, Congress should year-by-year set and publish asylum quotas for each country and set clear and focused definitions for asylum qualification.

Second, the best way to screen asylum-seekers is in their home country. If they seek entry into America as a refugee escaping persecution, they should seek such status in their home country through the American Embassy. They’d come to America for entry only after being screened and thereafter certified as a refugee by U.S. personnel in their native country. This would eliminate the dangerous storm to the border by desperate asylum-seekers.

Third, Congress should adopt legislation that quickens the immigration process at lower cost, perhaps a total cost of $2,000 and within two years, two objections to the current system that deter immigration and citizenship applications. Ask any new citizen to what they object, or ask illegal immigrants what deters applications for citizenship. They’ll say high cost and the long wait.

Knowledge of English, spoken, written and understood, would be required. Most other major countries including Canada, France, Russia and China, require language knowledge for citizenship. Tutoring for those without English knowledge would be available. Civics testing is currently required, but it could be more efficiently administered online. Immigration officials could still conduct an interview to test an applicant’s command of English. Cost could be no more than $2,000 and the process take no longer than two years or so from start to finish.

Here’s why such a system will work. Today, there’s a massive number of asylum-seekers on the U.S. southern border – some legitimate, some not. President Trump likely knows “the wall” is not suitable for all southern border locations. Why not move from that obsession to policies that solve the problem at hand – dispersing the southern border asylum crowd and encouraging more citizenship?

Doing so should reduce the contention surrounding asylum and reduce the crowds at southern U.S. entry points. Having asylum-seekers congregate in their home country is preferable to their amassing and storming our border. Border Patrol officers would then be able to focus more on preventing illegal entry.

While asylum-seeking in the seeker’s country of origin may pressure U.S. Embassy personnel, Congress could transfer some immigration officials from America’s southern border to countries with current asylum-seekers (such as Honduras or Guatemala) rather than have thousands congregate at the American border.

Having asylum-seekers apply for American asylum in their own country with quotas imposed may create pressure for constructive reforms in the country of origin. It’s better to have asylum-seekers trying to change policies in their own country by staying nearby rather than having them make the long and sometimes dangerous trip to America without any assurance of entry. While such a change may cause certain countries to suffer an increase in crowds of asylum-seekers, better to have the crowds congregate elsewhere than America’s southern border.

New citizens who go through the naturalization process know that, at the naturalization ceremony, they are asked by a federal judge or other official if they realize they are giving up allegiance to their country of origin in favor of allegiance to the United States – applicants realize the gravity of their new commitment and pledge to be an American, with all the attendant benefits and responsibilities, thereby giving naturalization applicants adequate notice of their legal and cultural expectations and responsibilities as new citizens.

Congress should act now to enact comprehensive immigration reform and most of all amend asylum laws and streamline the citizenship process. If Congress acts, millions of asylum-seekers would have adequate notice of their asylum rights and responsibilities, pressure on America’s borders could abate and the public would benefit from an updated immigration policy.

Richard W. Kuhling is a law professor at Gonzaga University School of Law and Spokane trial lawyer. George R. Nethercutt Jr. is a former 5th District member of Congress, George Nethercutt Civics Foundation chairman and University of Denver professor.

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