By Sarah N. Lynch
FALLS CHURCH, Va., (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday the policies that allow immigrants to seek asylum in the United States were broken and subject to "rampant abuse and fraud."
In a speech at the department's Executive Office For Immigration Review, Sessions said too many immigrants were taking advantage of the rules, and urged Congress to pass legislation that could make it harder for asylum petitions to be granted.
Sessions did not lay out any specific policy proposals in his address.
However, he complained about what he said were "loopholes" in the law that allow immigrants whom federal officials determine have a "credible fear" of returning to their home countries to be released, pending a hearing before a judge.
After they pass their credible fear review, many people simply disappear and never show up at their immigration hearings, he said.
He blamed the Obama administration for a policy shift in 2009 that allowed them to be released from custody, and said he believed many peoples' credible fear claims were simply a "ruse to enter the country illegally."
"Congress must pass the legislative priorities President Trump announced this week, which included significant asylum reform, swift border returns, and enhanced interior enforcement," he said.
The comments are in line with a list of immigration proposals the White House sent to Congress over the weekend that President Donald Trump wants in exchange for a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that he ended last month. Most of the principles, including on asylum reform, are likely to be non-starters for Democrats.
Human Rights First, a group that provides pro bono legal assistance to refugees, said the attorney general's comments mischaracterized asylum seekers as "threats and frauds."
"These individuals are not criminals," said senior director Eleanor Acer in a statement, "they are mothers, teenagers, and children desperate to escape violence and persecution."
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bernadette Baum)