Congress Should Reject Bills that Undermine U.S. Asylum System

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged members of Congress to reject proposed legislation that would severely undermine our nation’s commitment to refugees and asylum seekers by sending those with legitimate fears of persecution back to dangerous circumstances. The call today came in a statement for the record submitted to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security before their hearing, “Interior Immigration Enforcement Legislation.”

“Protecting the persecuted is a core American value. Reflecting this country’s deep-seated commitment to liberty and human dignity, as well as its pledge under the Refugee Convention’s Protocol. The United States has long led efforts to protect those who flee from political, religious, and other persecution,” said Human Rights First in today’s statement.

Human Rights First strongly opposes legislation that will be discussed during today’s hearing, including: the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act (HR 5137); the Protection of Children Act (HR 5143); and the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, commonly known as the SAFE Act (HR 2278).

“The bill [Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act] would lead to the deportation of legitimate refugees with well-founded fears of persecution, leave others in immigration detention for months and put children at risk of return to trafficking, death, and persecution in their home countries,” noted the statement. “The bill seeks to make it harder for those fleeing persecution and torture to file for asylum in the United States, a process already fraught with obstacles.”

Among many changes to the law, these proposed pieces of legislation would:

  • Raise the expedited removal screening standard for those seeking this country’s protection at the border to an unduly high standard;
  • Appear to prevent arriving asylum seekers who have passed the credible fear screening process from being paroled from immigration detention;
  • Overturn provisions in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) that protect children from return to traffickers or persecution;
  • Drastically narrow the definition of an “unaccompanied child”; and
  • Subject unaccompanied children to the arbitrary one-year asylum filing deadline bar.

Human Rights First recommends that Congress take steps to strengthen the asylum system, including:

  • Increase immigration court staffing to address removal hearing delays and eliminate hearing backlog;
  • Increase asylum office staffing to address backlogs and provide timely referrals into removal proceedings;
  • End the detention of children and their families, and effectively implement parole and release procedures;
  • Use cost-effective alternatives to detention rather than more detention;
  • Support legal orientation programs and access to counsel measures that improve fairness and efficiency of the immigration system;
  • Utilize multiple existing anti-fraud tools; and
  • Implement U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommendations on those fleeing religious and other forms of persecution and request updated USCIRF study.

Published on February 11, 2015


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