Revamping of Political Asylum Process Outlined : Immigration: INS officials say the planned revisions would create a ‘fair and timely’ system. But critics contend the proposals would hamper legitimate refugees.


U.S. immigration authorities Thursday outlined a series of changes that are being contemplated as part of a White House-directed comprehensive reform of the process for granting political asylum to foreign nationals who say they are fleeing persecution.

The prospective measures were detailed two days after President Clinton called for an overhaul of the beleaguered political asylum process, which authorities say has been abused by job-seekers, suspected terrorists and others. Officials are seeking to have the revamped asylum program in place by October.

Among the most controversial proposals under consideration: denying working papers to asylum-seekers until their cases are resolved favorably, imposing an application time limit on claimants after arrival in the United States, and returning applicants to so-called safe countries that they passed through en route to the United States.

The contemplated reform package also includes several proposed alterations outlined by President Clinton, such as expedited repatriation of asylum-seekers arriving at airports and other ports of entry and reductions in appeals.


Acting Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Chris Sale said the planned revisions would create a system that is both “fair and timely.”

But immigrant advocates quickly assailed the latest suggestions as hastily conceived measures that will hamper those who had legitimate fears of persecution in their homelands.

“Overall, this is part of the rush to judgment to get reforms at any cost, primarily at the expense of the rights of asylum applicants,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the immigrants rights’ project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The proposals to put a time limit on application and deny asylum-seekers work papers while cases are pending are designed to cull out economic migrants. Many immigrants now file bogus asylum applications in the hope of winning the right to work while their cases drag on for months or years.


But critics said the plan would subject legitimate refugees to undue economic hardships.

Rights advocates also object to the concept of returning asylum seekers to countries that they passed through while in transit to the United States. They fear that those applicants would not receive adequate consideration.

Under such a plan, for instance, an asylum seeker from Central America who arrived in the United States by way of Mexico could theoretically be sent back to Mexico and judged under Mexican refugee laws.

But Gregg A. Beyer, national asylum director for the INS, said such forced returns to third countries would occur only with countries that had agreements with the United States. (The United States does not have such an accord with Mexico.)


While President Clinton focused on the highly publicized problem of bogus asylum seekers who arrive at airports and other ports of entry, the potential modifications released Thursday concentrate on a much broader dilemma: how to reduce the bulging rolls of asylum applicants already residing here and simultaneously streamline the process so that claims are dealt with rapidly and effectively.

The goal, authorities said, is to reduce asylum processing time to less than 90 days. Currently, applications may drag on for years.