Asylum News 50
Commission Issues “Report Card” on Asylum Reforms On February 8, 2007, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a “report card” documenting the response of the Department of Homeland Security to reforms recommended by USCIRF two years ago. The Bureau of Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) received low grades for its failure to implement reforms for asylum seekers detained in U.S. immigration jails. ICE had failed to codify parole criteria for asylum seekers and to take steps to ensure that asylum seekers are not jailed in penal facilities. The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection was cited for its failure to follow procedures to protect asylum seekers in the expedited removal process. The Department of Justice and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had taken some steps toward improvement, though not others, in response to the USCIRF recommendations. Click here for the USCIRF report card and further information. Detention of Asylum Seekers and Immigrant Families In recent weeks, local advocacy groups in Texas, as well as the immigration clinic at the University of Texas at Austin, have raised public awareness about the impact of detention on immigrant families, including asylum seekers, at T. Don Hutto Residential Center, the “family” detention facility in Taylor, Texas. This morning, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children issued a new report that documents problems at the Texas facility and the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, Pennsylvania – the only two family detention centers in the United States – and recommends reforms. More on these developments next month. To read the press release from the Women’s Commission, click here. To read the report, click here. State Department Announces Resettlement for Iraqi Refugees On February 14, 2007, the State Department announced its plan for addressing the Iraqi refugee crisis. In addition to increasing financial assistance for refugees in the region, the United States plans to resettle 7,000 Iraqi refugees and to create procedures, through potential legislation and other means, to assist some Iraqis who are at risk because of their employment or close association with the U.S. government. UNHCR welcomed these steps. Several refugee advocacy groups have emphasized that the U.S. government’s plans only begin to respond to the needs of displaced Iraqis who are at risk. To read the complete transcript from the State Department briefing, click here. The announcement follows on the heels of a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing entitled “The Plight of Iraqi Refugees,” held a month earlier, on January 16. At the hearing, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) expressed his concern that the U.S. admitted only 202 Iraqi refugees to the United States during the last fiscal year, and that the new special immigrant visa program for Iraqi and Afghani translators (see August 2006 Asylum News) already has a six-year waiting list. To read the complete testimony from the Senate hearing, click here. Material Support Update: No Process Yet for Asylum Seekers to Obtain Waivers On January 11, 2007, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would begin considering waivers of the “material support” bar for refugees who have applied for asylum in the United States. This was a welcome announcement, though more progress is needed and many refugees remain unprotected. As of today, however, DHS has not yet announced a process for assessing waiver eligibility for asylum and other cases pending before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the immigration courts, and the federal courts. The department has said that it will only assess waiver eligibility in duress cases, at this point, for asylum seekers who have been victimized by so-called Tier III “terrorist organizations,” meaning that it will not yet consider waivers for refugees who have been targeted by violent groups that have been designated or listed as “terrorist organizations” by the U.S. government. For more information, click here. Increase in Fees Will Affect Asylees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced plans to raise filing fees dramatically for immigration applications. Under the new proposal, asylum application fees would still be waived, but asylees who seek to adjust to legal permanent resident status, and anyone else applying for a green card, would be charged $905, an increase from the current $325 filing fee. Immigrants applying for citizenship, who now pay $330, would be charged $595. Immigrants petitioning for their relatives to join them in the United States would be charged $355, up from $190. Click here for more information on this proposal from USCIS. The new fee structure would probably take effect in the early summer. USCIS has posted the fee proposal in the Federal Register and opened up a 60-day public comment period. The deadline for comments is April 2, 2007. Comments can be submitted by email to [email protected], on the website www.regulations.gov, or by fax to 866-466-5370. Any comments should refer to DHS Docket # USCIS-2006-0044.