CNN's Fareed Zakaria: 'Pains Me To Say' Trump Is Right About Asylum

Fareed Zakaria, a journalist with CNN, attends the Clinton Global Initiative, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)


CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has emerged as one of the first liberal journalists to admit that the U.S. system of asylum is “out of control” and is being “gamed.”  He discussed the growing crisis on his program, “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” and in a recent column in the Washington Post saying it “pains me to say that he [Trump] is right.” Finally, a voice of sanity from the left.


He acknowledges that the number of asylum seekers has skyrocketed in the last five years which has led to a “staggering backlog in immigration courts.”

Zakaria calls the current asylum rules “vague” and says “they are too lax.” He even quotes a senior Homeland Security Department official who recently said, “the system is on fire.”

 The initial step for many asylum seekers is to convince officers that they have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home countries, and 76 percent meet the criteria. Some applicants for asylum have suspiciously similar stories, using identical phrases. Many simply use the system to enter the United States and then melt into the shadows or gain a work permit while their application is pending.

Perhaps Zakaria’s most honest admission was that “asylum is meant to be granted to a small number of people in extreme circumstances — not as a substitute for the process of immigration itself. Yet the two have gotten mixed up.” Asylum has become a fast way to circumvent traditional immigration procedures which are lengthier and more stringent.

He cites the Atlantic’s David Frum who recently wrote that the concept of “a right to asylum is a relatively recent one” which can trace its beginnings to the early years of the Cold War.

Guilt-ridden over the rejection of many Jewish refugees during World War II, the United Nations created a right of asylum to protect those who were fleeing regimes where they would be killed or imprisoned because of their identity or beliefs. It was intended to help the victims of totalitarian regimes like Hitler’s and Stalin’s. This standard has gotten broader and broader over the years, including threats of gang warfare and domestic violence.

These looser criteria, coupled with the reality that it is a safe way to enter the United States, have made the asylum system easy to abuse. Applications from Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans have surged even though the murder rate in their countries has been cut in half. More broadly, hundreds of millions of people around the world who live in poor, unstable regions where threats of violence abound could apply for asylum. Do they all have the legal right to enter the United States through a back door, bypassing the normal immigration process?


Trump has tried to tighten the requirements for asylum. He’s also hired more judges and has recently pressured Mexico to help prevent asylum seekers from entering the U.S.

Zakaria agrees with these steps, but says that far more needs to be done. Laws need to be toughened. Loopholes need to be closed. He says, for example, “the loophole that allows applicants to work while their claim is pending has simply created perverse incentives.”

He calls for a “much larger fix.”

The criteria for asylum need to be rewritten and substantially tightened. The number of courts and officials dealing with asylum must be massively expanded. (According to former immigration official David Martin, today’s crisis has its roots in the budgetary cuts of the mid-Obama years, which starved the government of resources to process asylum applicants quickly.) People should not be able to use asylum claims as a way to work in the United States. There needs to be much greater cooperation with the home countries of these applicants rather than insults, threats and aid freezes. No one fix will do it, but we need the kind of sensible bipartisan legislation that has resolved past immigration crises.

Quite an admission from a CNN host. The most important point Zakaria makes is that “sensible bipartisan legislation” is needed. That’s a tall order given the recent hard left turn the Democratic Party has taken.


At last week’s Democratic debate, all 2020 candidates raised their hands when the group was asked which of them supported medical coverage for illegal immigrants. That’s a pretty extreme position. U.S. taxpayers should provide free healthcare to every person who crosses the border illegally? They are encouraging illegal immigration.

The divide between Republicans and Democrats has become so wide, it’s hard to see how compromise is possible.

Zakaria believes that if Democrats continue to “assail the Trump administration for its heartlessness,” and remain unwilling to “address the roots of this genuine crisis,” it will hurt them in 2020. He wrote:

If things continue to spiral downward and America’s southern border seems out of control, Trump’s tough rhetoric and hard-line stands will become increasingly attractive to the public. Keep in mind that the rise of populism in the Western world is almost everywhere tied to fears of growing, out-of-control immigration.

Thank you for that Fareed.


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