Policy Analysis No. 299

New Asylum Laws: Undermining an American Ideal

By Michele Pistone
March 24, 1998

Executive Summary

Human lives are being put in danger by the 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The new law contradicts America’s tradition of offering a safe haven to people fleeing persecution by failing to accommodate the unique and often tragic circumstances that confront those seeking asylum.

The most damaging portion of the 1996 law is the one- year filing deadline. Many genuine asylum seekers will not be able to meet the deadline because of the circumstances they face, including the trauma of torture, the threat of death, and fear for family members who remain in their home country.

The 1996 changes were based on a sensationalized and misleading portrayal of U.S. asylum law. Only about 17,000 people are granted asylum in the United States each year. Administrative reforms by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1995 closed the major loopholes that existed at the time, making the 1996 legislative changes at best unnecessary.

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Michele Pistone is an advocacy fellow (1997-99) at the Center for Applied Legal Studies at Georgetown University Law Center. During 1996 she served as the acting legal director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in Washington, D.C.