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Democrats on Capitol Hill hailed the changes, saying they will help particularly with Syrian refugees who are caught in a web of competing groups, some of whom have been designated terrorist agents by the U.S.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the old rules would block a Syrian who gave a sandwich to a Free Syrian Army soldier from getting refugee status, even though the U.S. is actively aiding the Free Syrian Army in its fight against the Syrian regime.

Refugees are those who make claims from their home countries, while asylum claims are made by those who arrive at or are already in the U.S.

The 2009 internal report, which looked at claims made in 2005, found extensive evidence of fraud.

Investigators said 12 percent of the cases they reviewed showed clear evidence of fraud. In some cases, adjudicators missed the evidence, and in other instances, the adjudicators weren’t using tools available to the fraud investigators so they couldn’t have known.

In 58 percent of cases, there were signals of fraud but not enough evidence to make a final determination. Some of those cases had been approved, and others were sent to a judge for final review.

The investigators said even the 70 percent combined fraud number may be low because some of the other 30 percent of cases had problems that weren’t detected.

The report was labeled “Draft” and apparently was never released.

In another document obtained by the Judiciary Committee, the Homeland Security Department said it doesn’t regularly detain those who make asylum claims. Mr. Goodlatte said that appears to contradict the law.

“All aliens who are determined to possess a credible fear of persecution and granted parole are released from ICE custody. If parole is subject to conditions, the conditions must be satisfied before parole will be granted,” the department said in an official response to questions from Congress in December.

Mr. Goodlatte said the department must follow the law, which he said requires many of those to be detained while they are awaiting a ruling.

“These laws are in place to allow immigration authorities to expeditiously determine whether the individual in question is truly facing persecution or trying to game the system, and to prevent bad actors from being released into our communities,” he said.

Last year, his committee obtained a document that indicated some drug cartel family members were using the asylum process on the southwestern border to gain a foothold in the U.S., then continued their trafficking activities.

But Mr. Boogaard, the Homeland Security spokesman, said it’s been long-standing policy for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the agency that handles detention — to make determinations on a case-by-case basis.

“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. Only a judge can determine asylum eligibility,” he said.