Proposed regulations for people seeking asylum in this country have come under fire from a human-rights group that says the rules would deter those fleeing persecution and are inconsistent with current laws.
The regulations have been issued in draft form by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Under the new rules, an applicant would have to prove that "it is more likely than not that he would be persecuted," should he return to his homeland.
The human-rights group asserts in a new study that this tough new standard would be "overly restrictive" on applicants for asylum, particularly those fleeing the conflict in Central America.
"[It] would be the latest in a series of measures taken by this administration to deter asylum seekers," according to the study by the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights (LCIHR), a privately funded organization that provides legal help for refugees.
Duke Austin, an INS spokesman, said that because the new regulations are still in draft form and under review by the Justice Department, his agency had no comment on the lawyers committee report.
The LCIHR report states that the new proposals would violate certain aspects of the Refugee Act of 1980 that established asylum procedures for individual refugees.
"The [proposed] regulations are illegal and, should they be inacted in the present form, they will undoubtedly be legally challenged," said Auther Helton, coauthor of the report.
LCIHR said the new standard for asylum applicants affronts international obligations of the United States, as well as the more lenient "well-founded fear of persecution" standard that a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision deemed appropriate for determining refugee status.
The lawyers committee also asserted that the proposed regulations would permit the INS to consider factors such as whether a refugee illegally obtained a visa to get into this country, or if an applicant could have found refuge in another country through which he traveled prior to his arrival here. According to the report, these factors are "wholely unrelated" to an individual's refugee situation.
"The biggest problem [with the proposed rules] is on the question of passing through other countries," said Michael Maggio, a Washington lawyer who represents many aliens seeking asylum in the United States. Maggio is not affiliated with the LCIHR group.
"This [the rules] is geared toward Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Iranians," Maggio said.
All refugees from these countries, he said, usually pass though other countries on their way to the United States. Immigration officials could deny their applications under the proposed rules because the refugees could have found protection elsewhere.
But even with the proposed regulations, "basic problems in the asylum area are not addressed," the report said. Under the current procedure, immigration judges and the INS use the "advisory opinions" of the State Department in determining the merits of asylum applications.
Critics, like Maggio and other immigration lawyers, charged that institutional biases of the State Department causes them to favor political asylum applications from refugees fleeing communist states.
On the other hand, "extreme bias has been demonstrated against political asylum applicants from countries deemed friendly to the United States government by the State Department," the report said.
According to Maggio, 88 percent of Libyans filing asylum applications get their asylum status, but only 3 percent of the applications from Guatemalans are approved. Maggio attributes this disparity to the strained relations between the United States and Libya and the large amount of U.S. foreign aid provided to Guatemala.
Persons fleeing a communist regime have an easier time getting asylum in the United States than people who flee authoritarian governments, according to Helton. He claimed that refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan have a tougher time getting asylum. Those fleeing from Romania, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, "you will see receive quite favorable treatment," according to Helton, who said this can only be explained "in terms of our different foreign policy concerns in those countries."