Just Curious: Is Lankford right about how asylum works?

Kim Archer
Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise
U.S. Sen. James Lankford spoke with community leaders during a reception recently in Bartlesville.

"Just Curious" is an occasional Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise feature aimed at fact-checking claims (that we're "just curious" about) made by local, state or nationally elected leaders of both political parties.

Like most elected members of Congress, U.S. Sen. James Lankford's office sends a constant stream of emails to news organizations touting his views on the major issues of the day.

Since his most recent reelection, the senator's office staff seems to be working overtime to account for his every move and appearance, presumably in the interest of his constituents.

On Monday, Lankford's office noted his appearance Sunday on Fox News, where he criticized the nation's asylum program, calling it a simple screening process that makes it easy for immigrants to enter the country.

"So when someone crosses the border all they have to say is ‘I have fear in my country,’ and they are trained what to say by the cartels before they cross," Lankford told Fox News' Sunday Night in America with Trey Gowdy. "They get that very low threshold of ‘I have fear in my country,’ and then they put them in line for a hearing to see if they actually qualify for asylum."

He said it can take up to 10 years to get a hearing on their asylum request, depending on where they request to be in the country.

"In the meantime, they get to stay; they get to work; travel wherever they want to in the country," Lankford said. "They can connect and do whatever they want to in the country while they await their hearing. But it actually incentivizes more people to come, because they literally cross the border. They text family members back home saying ‘I said the magic word;’ I’m in the United States; come join me."

But Amy Grenier, policy and practice counsel for American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Lankford's take on the complex asylum process is "false and misleading."

"It is not enough to say 'I have fear' in my country. An asylum seeker has to convince a specially trained government official in an interview that there is a 'significant possibility' that a claim to asylum could be established," she said. "Under the administration’s new asylum transit ban, the standard may be even higher depending on how an asylum seeker entered."

With or without counsel, an asylum seeker has the burden of proving that he or she meets the definition of a refugee, according to the American Immigration Council.

"In order to be granted asylum, an individual is required to provide evidence demonstrating either that they have suffered persecution on account of a protected ground in the past, and/or that they have a “well-founded fear” of future persecution in their home country," the AIC continues.  

Grenier said the process of legally entering the county as an asylum seeker is not simple.

"This is not an easy process, it is not a magic word," she said. "It is the bare minimum we should be doing under our international and domestic laws to not return asylum seekers to a situation where they could be harmed – it is the bare minimum we should be doing as a country committed to our values of due process and fairness."

To learn more about the asylum process, visit the American Immigration Council website.