At a Jan 20 congressional hearing on immigration law, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) alleged that immigration courts have been overwhelmed by a large number of false or invalid asylum claims.

Buck said that these false claims make it more difficult for ‘legitimate’ asylum seekers to enter the country.

“It just seems to me that when we have a latched system where we’re allowing people to be released on their own recognizance basically and come back on their own word, we have this tremendous backlog,” Buck said. “And the problem is when someone has a legitimate asylum claim, they’re in limbo until that claim is decided in their favor.”

Buck later elaborated, saying, “Somewhere between 70 and 85% of the border claims concerning asylum have been rejected by the courts as not legitimate, and the reason for individuals coming here has been shown to be economic, and not a threat to life.”

During the hearing, Buck questioned witness Andrew R. Arthur, who is the resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). The CIS is a right-wing think tank that describes itself as “low-immigration, pro-immigrant.” It has been the subject of controversy, with the Southern Poverty Law Center designating CIS as an anti-immigrant hate group. CIS members have contested these claims.

In a phone call, Buck spoke on his experiences with CIS: “I’ve read a few of their articles, and been involved in hearings where representatives from the group have testified. Their website impressed me because they were welcoming, in a very humanitarian way, immigrants to this country, while opposed to illegal immigration. … I have to tell you, if anyone says they are a hate group, I would be very surprised.”

At the hearing, Buck asked, “Your thoughts on the effects of basically an open door policy for folks to use asylum as an excuse to get in?”

“Between FY2008 and FY2019 4th quarter, about 83% of all migrants apprehended at the border claimed a credible fear … But at the end of the day, only about 17% of that 83% actually received asylum,” Arthur said. “The focus in the system really needs to be on that 17% of individuals who are found to have credible fear so that we can adjudicate their asylum quickly.”

Arthur did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. This article will be updated with any response received.

Republicans have levied similar statistics in the past, claiming that an overwhelming number of false asylum claims bog down the system for legitimate asylum seekers.

However, according to Politifact, this talking point is based on a misinterpretation of the data. Asylum cases can be dismissed or closed even if the claimant actually has a credible fear. 

In 2018, 40% of credible fear cases were dismissed because the claimant never submitted a formal asylum application. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Often, the claimant may not even be aware that the application is necessary. Other times, asylum seekers may be unable to adequately represent themselves in court.

Buck made it clear that his concern was only with those deemed to be making false asylum claims, not immigrants as a whole. In 2019, he sponsored a bipartisan bill that would have eliminated a per-country limit on employment-based visas.

“I think it’s very important that when we have legitimate asylum cases, that we welcome people to this country,” Buck said. “We are a compassionate country, and we should demonstrate that across the world.”

Between 2001 and 2018, the U.S. government has deported several million immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of those deported in that time had not been convicted of any crime.

View the full hearing here.