U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - United States
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - United States , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8aa4.html [accessed 24 October 2017]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
During 1999, the United States hosted an estimated 638,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection, including about 533,000 pending asylum applicants, about 20,000 persons granted asylum during the year, and more than 85,000 newly resettled refugees.
During 1999, 41,377 asylum seekers filed applications with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), continuing a trend of falling numbers of asylum applications that began in 1996. Although the INS does not provide the number of individuals these cases represent, it does indicate that the number of cases granted, 13,220, represented 17,767 individuals. Based on this 1.34 individuals per case, USCR estimates that about 55,445 persons applied for asylum with the INS during the fiscal year (October through September).
Asylum applications in 1999 represented a 25 percent decrease from the 54,952 applications filed in 1998 and a 48 percent decrease from the 84,839 applications filed in 1997. In reality, though, the number of new arrivals in 1999 registering asylum claims was much lower than that. Only 31,735 persons filed new asylum applications. The remainder had been previously filed, but administratively closed, and were reopened during the year.
INS asylum officers granted 13,220 applications and denied or referred 21,403, for a 38.2 percent approval rate. This represented an increase from an approval rate of 23 percent in 1998 and 18.7 in 1997. The largest number of asylum seekers in 1999 came from China (5,218), with an approval rate of 23.7 percent. The next largest nationality group applying for asylum was Somalis, with 3,147 applicants and an approval rate of 71.4 percent. Haitians represented the third largest group, with 2,977 applying during the year, and an approval rate of 7.6 percent. The next largest groups were Salvadorans (2,783; approval rate of 11.4 percent), Guatemalans (2,716; approval rate of 13.6 percent), and Mexicans (2,542; approval rate of 2.3 percent).
Among the nationalities with the highest asylum approval rates with INS asylum officers were Afghans (81.7 percent), Cubans and Ethiopians (76 to 78 percent), and Sudanese, Somalis, and Burmese (71 to 75 percent).
Fewer asylum applicants during 1999 meant that the INS could continue to reduce the backlog of cases that had climbed to 464,000 in 1995. By year's end, 341,622 asylum applications were pending with the INS. This included 178,708 Salvadoran cases (about 239,468 persons), 100,356 Guatemalan cases (about 134,477 persons), and 15,120 Haitian cases (about 20,260 persons). Many of these cases are of individuals who may qualify for permanent legal status in the United States under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act of 1997 (NACARA) and the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 1998 (HRIFA). The asylum cases of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Haitians approved for resident status under these special programs will be closed before any decision is reached on the application.
For the first year since 1996, the caseload decreased for immigration judges, housed in the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). In 1996, the first year after the internal reform of the asylum procedure by which INS asylum officers began referring cases to the EOIR that were not granted directly, the number of asylum cases received by immigration judges more than tripled.
The backlog grew each year until 1999 when 59,110 were pending, a 14 percent decrease from 1998. Immigration judges granted 6,589 asylum cases in 1999 and denied 16,642, an approval rate of 28.4 percent. The largest volume of immigration court cases decided, by nationality, were of Chinese (4,398), Guatemalans (2,454), and Salvadorans (1,990), with asylum approval rates of 44.2, 7.1, and 5 percent, respectively. Nationalities with the most cases pending at the EOIR at year's end were Mexicans (10,746), Chinese (6,855), Salvadorans (4,625), and Guatemalans (4,403).
The United States resettled 85,006 refugees in fiscal year 1999, an 11 percent increase from 1998, but a 35 percent decrease from the 131,291 refugees resettled in 1992. The largest number of refugees (22,697) was from Bosnia, although for the first time since 1992 the numbers of Bosnians declined from the previous year. The number of refugees from the former Soviet Union (16,922), the second largest group to be resettled, has declined each year since 1992. The third largest group to be admitted was refugees from the Kosovo crisis, numbering 14,156. Vietnamese (9,863) represented the fourth largest refugee group resettled in the United States in 1999, which represented a 78 percent decrease since 1992.
In addition to refugees from Kosovo, other nationality groups resettled in larger numbers in 1999 than in 1998 included Burmese, Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, and Croatians. Admissions increased from refugee-producing countries throughout Africa, most significantly admissions of Congolese, Nigerians, Ethiopians, Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, and Togolese. No refugees from Central or South America were admitted during the year.
In October, the U.S. State Department scaled back family-based refugee processing for Africans. The Priority-Three (close family) eligibility list decreased from 18 to 12 countries. Family members from Angola, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Togo remained eligible for family-based U.S. visas.
In 1998, an interim regulation went into effect that, for the first time, directed the INS to consider changed country conditions before allowing resettled refugees to adjust to permanent resident status. The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) wrote to the INS pointing out that the statute requires that persons granted asylum in the United States continue to meet the refugee definition in order to adjust to refugee status, but that the same statute includes no such requirement for persons admitted to the United States as refugees. The regulation was not made final in 1999.
Temporary Protected Status
The attorney general is authorized to designate temporary protected status (TPS) for foreigners who would be endangered if returned home. TPS is based on any of three circumstances: ongoing armed conflict; environmental disaster; or "extraordinary and temporary conditions" that prevent safe return. Unlike asylum, which requires an individualized adjudication, TPS is given to all eligible persons from the designated country or other geographic entity who register and who are present in the United States as of the date of the designation.
On January 5, the attorney general designated Honduras and Nicaragua for TPS for 18 months because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch (USCR does not consider victims of environmental disasters as refugees, and does not include nationals of Nicaragua, Honduras, and Montserrat who have been granted TPS on this basis in the World Refugee Survey's tally of the world's refugees).
On March 11, the attorney general designated Guinea-Bissau for TPS. At year's end, TPS was also in effect (having been re-designated from prior years) for habitual residents of Kosovo and certain nationals of Bosnia, Montserrat, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Burundi.
In 1999, USCR called on the United States to provide TPS for Colombians. In a July letter to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, USCR said, "Essentially no region of the country is untouched by the violence and all civilians are potential targets of the violence. Many people fear for their lives on a daily basis." At the end of the year, Colombians had not been given TPS (see Colombia).
Deferred Enforced Departure
Deferred enforced departure (DED), like TPS, is a discretionary mechanism used by the attorney general to suspend temporarily the removal of a specific population and allow them to work legally while they are protected from removal. Unlike TPS, DED has no specific statutory authority and is not necessarily based on ongoing armed conflict or other specifically defined legal criteria in the country of origin.
On September 27, President Clinton announced DED for 10,000 to 15,000 Liberians, allowing them to stay and work in the United States for one more year after TPS for Liberians expired on September 28. President Clinton indicated that the return of Liberians from the United States and other countries to which they fled would "severely burden Liberia and threaten the fragile peace that has recently been achieved in West Africa."
On December 20, 1998, the Clinton Administration announced that it would extend work authorization for certain Haitians granted DED, allowing them to continue to work while they apply to adjust status under the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 1998. Under that law, some Haitians who fled during the political violence in the early 1990s are eligible to become legal permanent residents of the United States. Among those eligible for residency are Haitian refugees who before the end of 1995 were either paroled into the United States from the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo, Cuba or applied for asylum in the United States. Unaccompanied, orphaned, and abandoned children are also eligible for residency.
Although 50,000 Haitians are estimated to be eligible for residency under the new law, only 18,000 applied in 1999. The application deadline is March 31, 2000, prompting fears that many eligible Haitians could lose their opportunity for legal status. Several reasons have been offered to explain the low number of applicants: the eight-month delay in issuing eligibility rules, the exclusion of 10,000 Haitians who fled to the United States using fraudulent documents, the high cost of the application, and the complexity of the rules.
Salvadorans and Guatemalans
In May, the INS published an interim rule implementing section 203 of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA). Under section 203, certain Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and former Soviet Bloc nationals can apply for suspension of deportation or cancellation of removal under the more generous standards in effect before the 1996 immigration laws were passed.
The interim rule significantly modified the 1998 proposed rule, which required all applicants to prove "extreme hardship" on a case-by-case basis. The rule created a rebuttable presumption of extreme hardship for NACARA-eligible American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh (ABC) class members. All NACARA-eligible Salvadorans who entered the United States on or before September 19, 1990, and all NACARA-eligible Guatemalans who entered the United States on or before October 1, 1990 are ABC class members. These applicants will not be required to prove that they would face "extreme hardship" if deported. The INS can rebut the presumption of hardship. The INS has stated that "circumstances that may rebut the presumption include a finding of ample personal financial resources in the country of return or a lack of ties to the community." In practice, the government has not attempted to rebut the presumption of hardship for applicants.
Individuals from the former Soviet Bloc and derivative applicants from El Salvador and Guatemala (those who rely on a spouse or parent's eligibility to qualify for NACARA benefits) are not entitled to a presumption of hardship, and must prove extreme hardship individually.
INS Commissioner Doris Meissner stated that the Administration's decision to create a presumption of hardship for certain Salvadoran and Guatemalan NACARA applicants was based on their "unique immigration history, deep roots in our society, and contributions to our communities." She also noted that the they "fled civil war and political violence" and that they have been in the United States for at least eight years, "many for much longer."
Under the normal asylum procedure, INS asylum officers either grant asylum based on a first interview or refer asylum seekers whose cases are not granted to immigration judges who consider their claims in the context of removal proceedings. The entire procedure is to be completed within 180 days of the filing of the asylum application (including action by both the INS asylum officer and the immigration judge). The INS bars work authorization for the first 180 days after the claim is filed (or until a grant of asylum). Work authorization is automatic for cases on the docket for longer than 180 days, if the applicant does not cause the delay.
Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), those who do not file asylum applications within one year after entering the United States may be denied having an INS asylum officer or an immigration judge hear their asylum claims.
In June, the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned a grant of asylum to a Guatemalan woman fleeing severe domestic abuse by her husband. The Board decided that Rodi Alvarado Peña had failed to demonstrate persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. Immigration court decisions on gender-based asylum claims continued to be mixed in 1999, despite the issuance of 1995 federal guidelines intended to recognized gender-based persecution as a basis for asylum.
Convention Against Torture
In February, the INS and EOIR issued interim regulations implementing Article Three of the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the United States from removing "any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the United States." To constitute torture, the conduct must: 1) inflict severe pain or suffering; 2) be intentional; 3) be sanctioned by a public official; and 4) not arise from lawful sanctions. Unlike asylum, the relief applies only to the prevention of future torture, and is not a remedy for past suffering.
The Convention Against Torture provides protection for individuals who fear persecution but cannot qualify for asylum or withholding of removal because the persecution they fear is not on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. It also provides protection for those who are excluded from applying for asylum, such as individuals with certain criminal convictions.
The 1996 immigration law fundamentally changed the procedures for improperly documented asylum seekers apprehended at US ports of entry.
Upon an alien's arrival, IIRIRA authorized immigration officers to "order the alien removed from the United States without further hearing or review" if the officer determines that the alien arrived without proper documents. An exception is made if the alien "indicates an intention to apply for asylum...or a fear of persecution."
If the alien who entered without inspection or with false documents makes an asylum claim, IIRIRA instructs the immigration officer to refer him or her to an asylum officer. If the asylum officer determines that the alien does not have a "credible fear" of persecution, the law directs the officer to order the alien removed from the United States "without further hearing or review."
This new legal standard for screening asylum seekers, a credible fear of persecution, requires them to demonstrate a "significant possibility...that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum" according to the well-founded fear of persecution standard used under current law for adjudicating asylum claims. The law instructs asylum officers to take into account the credibility of the alien and "other facts" known to the officer in making the credible fear determination.
IIRIRA permits an immigration judge to review the asylum officer's negative decision only if the asylum seeker requests it. It says that such review "shall be conducted as expeditiously as possible, to the maximum extent practicable within 24 hours, but in no case later than 7 days" after the asylum officer's order.
The power of an immigration officer to exclude an improperly documented person summarily without further hearing or review applies not only to persons just arriving, in the literal sense. It also includes any person (except for Cubans arriving by air) who has not been admitted or paroled into the United States and who has not been in the country continuously for at least two years.
In its preamble to IIRIRA's implementing regulations, the INS said that it would not use the expedited removal procedure for undocumented persons apprehended in the country's interior. Nevertheless, in 1999, the INS announced its first expansion of the expedited removal program, saying it would apply expedited removal to some aliens serving sentences for illegally entering the United States.
While the determination of credible fear of persecution is pending, IIRIRA states that the alien must be detained. After an asylum officer determines that an alien does have a credible fear of persecution, INS district directors have the discretion to continue to detain the alien while the asylum application is considered or to grant parole. In 1999, INS district directors continued to vary widely in their willingness to release asylum seekers. In July, the New York INS district director paroled asylum seeker Adelaide Abankwah after two and a half years in INS custody (she was granted asylum one month later). Abankwa fled Ghana, where she was threatened with genital mutilation.
The law insulates expedited removal and other procedures from judicial review, except for aliens who claim under oath that they have already been lawfully admitted for permanent residence, admitted as a refugee, or granted asylum. It also says that no court shall have jurisdiction "to hear any claim attacking the validity of an order of removal" carried out according to this procedure.
In 1999, 89,521 migrants were removed through the expedited removal process, a 15 percent increase from 1998. The vast majority of these removal orders took place on the U.S.-Mexico border; more than 90 percent of those removed were Mexican.
In November, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Senator Sam Brownback introduced the "Refugee Protection Act of 1999." In addition to limiting the use of expedited removal to emergency situations, it would also specify that detaining asylum seekers is not mandatory and would create a "good cause" exception to the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims.
The Kosovo Crisis
In response to the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and the mass exodus of refugees following NATO's bombing against Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, the United States resettled more than 14,000 Kosovars in 1999.
Initially, the United States planned to take 20,000 refugees to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the site where thousands of interdicted Haitians and Cubans have been detained. U.S officials thought that using Guantánamo would underscore the temporariness of the evacuation (refugees brought to Guantánamo would have no right to seek asylum) and the U.S. commitment, through NATO action, to halt the ethnic cleansing and allow refugees to return home.
For various reasons, including a decreasing urgency to evacuate the refugees immediately, Albania's willingness to accept them, and NGO criticism of the use of Guantánamo, Vice President Al Gore announced in April that the United States would not be using Guantánamo, but instead would bring the refugees directly to the United States for resettlement. USCR applauded the decision, stating, "It would have been inappropriate to hold traumatized people in such an isolated and inhospitable place."
Although the Clinton Administration insisted that the program was temporary, the revised plan called for bringing the refugees in through the existing U.S. refugee admissions program, which is predicated on resettlement as a durable solution. In this case, the United States announced that it would waive the usual refugee travel loan for those refugees who opted to return and that it would provide tickets for return to Kosovo. Nevertheless, Kosovars admitted to the United States under this program, like other refugees, have the right to apply for permanent resident status after one year.
As April ended, a new wave of refugees entered Albania and Macedonia. On April 30, UNHCR called upon non-European countries to start evacuating Kosovar refugees. The U.S. government responded with a two-pronged program. First, the government identified and screened refugees in Macedonia based on family ties in the United States. These family-petition refugees were processed according to normal refugee processing procedures, arrived with full refugee status in the United States, and were sent directly on to join their families.
The second prong was a fast track to relieve the pressure on the Stankovic I camp, the largest camp in Macedonia. INS officers traveled to the camp to begin quick adjudications of Stankovic I residents' refugee claims. Preference was given to Stankovic I residents with U.S. relatives (a small fraction), persons who had indicated a desire to be evacuated to the United States or Guantánamo, or persons who had indicated a desire to go to Germany but could not because Germany had temporarily suspended its evacuations.
After being approved by INS officers in Macedonia, refugees were flown to the United States. On May 5, the first planeload of Kosovars arrived at Fort Dix, a military base in New Jersey. USCR executive director Roger Winter accompanied the 453 refugees on the flight, which was greeted at Fort Dix by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Upon arrival at Fort Dix, the refugees completed medical exams, security checks, and other processing, including assuring sponsorship through the network of U.S. voluntary agencies and local communities. The INS then inspected and formally admitted the refugees to the United States, after which they traveled to the sites of their sponsoring voluntary agencies.
Although Kosovars evacuated to the United States were, like all other resettled refugees, entitled to remain in the United States, by the end of 1999, approximately 3,000 Kosovars chose to return home.
Largely as a result of IIRIRA, the number of aliens in INS custody continued to rise dramatically and reached a record high in 1999. IIRIRA requires the INS to detain: almost all aliens with criminal records in removal proceedings pending the outcome of those proceedings or their removal; all asylum seekers in the expedited removal process until they have established a credible fear of persecution; all arriving aliens who appear inadmissible; and all persons who have been ordered removed for at least 90 days following the order.
Detainees were about evenly split between those held in facilities whose sole or main purpose is to detain people because of their immigration status and persons held in state and county jails, where detainees' access to social and legal services were quite limited. In January 1998, the INS issued a set of detention standards intended to set uniform requirements for various aspects of detention, such as access to legal counsel and materials, and access to telephones and medical treatment. The standards applied only to the facilities run directly by the INS or private INS contractors, not to state and county jails.
The INS held an estimated 3,500 detainees with final orders of removal in 1999 because their countries refused to accept them or because they had no nationality. Many of these "indefinite" or "post-order" detainees initially entered the United States as refugees from Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere. Under IIRIRA, refugees and stateless persons who commit crimes and who are ordered deported are subject to detention for indefinite periods after they complete their criminal sentence.
In July, a five-judge federal district court panel in Seattle unanimously ruled that the INS's indefinite detention of immigrants is unconstitutional. The case involved five indefinite detainees: two from Vietnam, one from Laos, one from Cambodia, and one from Belarus. However, at the end of 1999, the federal courts remained split on whether the practice of indefinite detention was constitutional or whether it violated the rights of the detainees.
In August, the INS adopted new procedures governing custody review of indefinite detainees. The new procedures provided for more regular and formalized review proceedings.
UNHCR expressed concern that despite the INS's attempt to implement an internal process for reviewing indefinite detention cases, UNHCR guidelines call for any detention decision to be reviewed by "a judicial or administrative body independent of the detaining authorities."
Among those detained in 1999 were several immigrants detained on the basis of evidence that the U.S. government had not revealed to them or their counsel. A 1996 immigration and terrorism law allows immigrants to be jailed and deported for reasons of "national security" based on classified evidence that neither immigrants nor their attorneys are permitted to examine.
The INS increased deportations from 172,312 in 1998 to 176,990 in 1999, a 155 percent increase from the 69,536 deported in 1996, the year IIRIRA was passed. The 1999 total included 62,359 "criminal removals" and 114,631 noncriminal removals. Excluded from the total were some 72,000 persons formerly in INS custody who departed voluntarily after being charged with a violation of immigration law; nor did it include approximately 1.5 million apprehensions and voluntary returns at U.S. borders.
U.S. Coast Guard high-seas migrant interdictions increased by 24 percent from 1998 to 1999. In fiscal year 1999, the Coast Guard interdicted 4,782 migrants. Cubans (1,619) were the largest nationality group to be interdicted, significantly increasing from 903 in 1998 and 421 in 1997. Chinese interdictions spiked from roughly 200 each year in 1997 and 1998 to 1,092 in 1999. The number of interdicted Haitians was 1,039, slightly fewer than in 1998. The Coast Guard also interdicted 583 Dominicans during the year, about half the number in 1998.
USCR criticized INS operating instructions to its officers aboard Coast Guard cutters, saying that they were prejudicial. Given the inadequacy of shipboard screening interviews, USCR regards foreigners who have been returned pursuant to the interdiction program to have been denied a fair opportunity to seek asylum.
In September, President Clinton issued a memorandum authorizing the attorney general to "maintain custody, at any location she deems appropriate, and conduct any screening she deems appropriate in her unreviewable discretion, of any undocumented person she has reason to believe is seeking to enter the United States and who is encountered in a vessel interdicted on high seas." The President went on to say that the memorandum should not be interpreted to create any right, substantive or procedural, "or to require any procedures to determine whether the person is a refugee."
The memorandum contradicted an earlier INS legal opinion stating that the INS "possesses no statutory authority to hold interdicted aliens at an overseas facility." USCR criticized the memorandum, stating, "On its face, the memorandum egregiously erodes what few protections interdicted asylum seekers might claim."
In 1999, the INS detained at least 350 Chinese asylum seekers on Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. In January, two large boats with Chinese asylum seekers arrived on Guam. Because the local prison was full, the INS chartered a plane and took the Chinese to a detention center in the United States, where they were eventually paroled and permitted to seek asylum. Between April 1998 and July 1999, 19 Chinese boats arrived on Guam, with an average of 80 people per boat.
By April 1999, the Guam detention facility filled to capacity, and the INS erected a "tent city" in the prison yard. Also in April, the U.S. Coast Guard began diverting Guam-bound Chinese boats to Tinian Island (near Guam) to prevent the Chinese from gaining access to asylum rights available in Guam (where U.S. immigration laws apply).
The Coast Guard diverted the boats to Tinian, part of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), said the INS, because the influx of asylum seekers had reached crisis levels. After the ships were diverted to Tinian, Chinese boat arrivals on Guam dropped sharply. Several factors may have contributed to the decrease, including the approaching typhoon season, the interdictions, and the Coast Guard's "enhanced presence" around Guam and the CNMI. In 1999, at least 500 Chinese asylum seekers where held on Tinian.
Since the treatment of asylum seekers in Guam is governed by U.S. immigration laws, the adjudication procedure is essentially the same as on the U.S. mainland. An improperly documented alien apprehended upon arrival in Guam is placed in the expedited removal process. Chinese expressing a fear of return to China are interviewed by an INS asylum officer (and are detained until that interview) to determine if they have a credible fear of persecution in China. Almost all of the Chinese pass the credible fear test, after which they are placed in the standard removal proceedings for full consideration of their asylum claims.
On Tinian, where U.S. immigration laws do not apply, INS officers interviewed the initial Chinese arrivals to determine if they had a credible fear of persecution in their homeland the standard used in the expedited removal process on Guam. About 40 percent of the Chinese met the credible fear standard. Later in the year, the INS began using the higher standard under the 1967 Protocol to the UN Refugee Convention, which requires that no party return or expel a refugee to a country where his or her life or freedom would be threatened. When the INS began screening under the higher standard, approvals dropped to around 5 percent. At the end of the operation, roughly 400 of the 500 Chinese were returned to China. The INS arranged for 89 to be flown to the U.S. mainland, where they were detained in Ullin, Illinois and eventually released and allowed to apply for asylum.
After a July site visit to Guam, USCR called on the United States to release from detention all asylum seekers on Guam with credible asylum claims who were not a danger to the community and not likely to abscond; facilitate legal representation by allowing asylum seekers to travel to the continental United States; immediately improve the living conditions of asylum seekers remaining in detention on the island; and fully comply with federal guidelines on persons detained by the United States.
In August, a large boat of Chinese intercepted by the INS was brought to Midway, also part of the CNMI. By this time, the INS procedure regarding intercepted Chinese was to distribute a questionnaire to those wishing to apply for asylum. Completed questionnaires were forwarded to the INS on the mainland where they were evaluated by an asylum officer, whose decision was reviewed by INS officials in Washington. If the INS in Washington found that an interview of the asylum seeker was warranted, a specially trained asylum officer would be sent to the Pacific to conduct the interview. If the asylum officer concluded that the individual may be a refugee, he or she was flown to the U.S. mainland for full consideration of the asylum claim.
By the end of the year, the INS returned at least 620 Chinese intercepted in the Pacific.
(On January 1, 2000, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 393 Haitians, 16 Dominicans, and 2 Chinese crowded aboard an old boat just off the Florida coast. Although the INS reportedly agreed to perform shipboard screenings during the return journey for those who expressed a fear of persecution, the incident set off a wave of protest from advocates who questioned the INS's offshore screening of asylum seekers and the seemingly contradictory treatment of interdicted Cubans who have largely been admitted to the United States under various policies and Haitians who have generally been returned.)