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But Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said asylum seekers go through multiple background checks before any decision is made, including checks by law enforcement and an interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“Credible fear determinations are dictated by long-standing statute, not an issuance of discretion. The USCIS officer must find that a ‘significant possibility’ exists that the individual may be found eligible for asylum or withholding of removal. During the credible fear review, USCIS initiates a background check using immigration, national security and criminal databases,” he said.

Once an officer determines a “credible fear” of persecution or torture, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reviews the case to determine whether to detail the individual pending a court hearing or whether to parole the person into the country on the admonition of returning for hearings.

“If an individual claiming asylum at the border is deemed to be a threat to public safety or national security, ICE has the authority to keep the individual in detention until their case is heard by an immigration judge,” Mr. Boogaard said. “Only a judge can determine asylum eligibility.

“On average, 91 percent of Mexican applicants seeking asylum following a determination that they have credible fear are denied. Individuals who are denied an asylum application are subject to removal from the United States,” he said.

Mr. Goodlatte, though, said the law requires most people who raise claims of “credible fear” to be put in mandatory detention. Parole is reserved for special medical emergency cases or humanitarian reasons, or when there is a specific public benefit to being released.

The Obama administration has taken an expansive view of the public benefit section, arguing that unless there is a demonstrable flight risk or apparent danger to the community, those seeking asylum should be released rather than held.

Mr. Goodlatte said that expansive view is dangerous and has led to the problems detailed in the memo. He said his committee “will be closely examining this egregious abuse.”

According to the memo, some alien smugglers are using the “credible fear” process as part of their technique for getting illegal immigrants into the U.S.