Political asylum plan promises faster review

March 30, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Major elements of the Clinton administration's long-awaited plan for speeding up the review of political asylum claims, released yesterday, came under immediate attack from some immigration advocates.

Among the most contentious issues are proposals designed to discourage "frivolous" claims for asylum: charging a $130 fee per applicant, requiring a wait of at least 150 days to obtain a work authorization, and granting greater discretion to asylum hearing officers to decide whether to interview an applicant face-to-face.

In exchange, asylum applicants would be promised a quicker review -- 60 days for an initial determination and, in case of a denial, a ruling from an immigration judge within another 180 days.

To maintain that pace, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Justice Department have asked Congress to more than double the number of hearing officers, from 150 to 334, and expand the number of judges from 85 to 135.

"Protection for genuine refugees remains our goal. At the same time, these reforms restore needed control over asylum abuse," INS Commissioner Doris Meissner said. Since 1991, she noted, the number of asylum applications has tripled, to more than 150,000 last year.

"We actually agree with the goals of better protection of true asylum seekers," said Wendy Young, an immigration policy analyst with the U.S. Catholic Conference. "But we are concerned that some of these elements create hardship." Many will not be able to afford the fee, she said.

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