House Oversight of Asylum Requests at Border Should Focus on Protection of Vulnerable Groups
Washington, D.C. –Human Rights First urges members of Congress at today’s House Oversight Committee Subcommittee on National Security hearing on “Border Security Oversight, Part III: Examining Asylum Requests,” to address steps that should be taken to better protect refugees who have fled from religious, political and other persecution.
“The United States has a long tradition of support for the protection of men, women, and children from all over the world who are forced to flee religious, political and other persecution. This tradition reflects a core component of this country’s identity as a nation committed to freedom and respect for human dignity,” said Human Rights First’s Sara Ibrahim. “The subcommittee should focus its oversight on steps that can be taken to improve border procedures so that immigration processing is conducted in ways that uphold core American values, humane treatment, and the dignity of the individual.”
When Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States enshrined into domestic law its commitment to protect the persecuted, creating the legal status of and incorporating the definition of a “refugee” from the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Asylum seekers now interact with three separate agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When asylum seekers arrive at an airport or a border entry post, they are initially inspected and interviewed by officers from CBP. If encountered in the border areas, asylum seekers are interviewed by officers with the Border Patrol. When asylum seekers are detained, ICE is the agency responsible for their detention.
Asylum seekers who are placed into “expedited removal” are not allowed to file a request for asylum, unless they first pass a screening interview conducted by an Asylum Officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), or a subsequent immigration court review. The bi-partisan U.S .Commission on International Religious Freedom identified significant flaws in the conduct of expedited removal, recommending a number of reforms. In 2013, USCRIF issued a follow-up report finding that asylum seekers continue to be detained under inappropriate conditions in jails and jail-like facilities and recommended that, when detained, asylum seekers should be held in facilities with conditions appropriate for civil immigration detention, as well as improvements to expand immigration detainees’ access to legal information, representation, and in-person hearings Applicants for asylum are subject to bars and extensive security and background checks.
“DHS and its component agencies CBP and ICE should ensure that procedures designed to protect asylum seekers from return to persecution are followed, publicly report on credible fear referral rates, and implement the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s recommendations on expedited removal,” said Ibrahim.
Human Rights First, which provides pro bono counsel to asylum seekers working in partnership with volunteer lawyers at the nation’s leading law firms, has recommended reforms that would provide better access to legal counsel, humane treatment in American detention facilities, and a more effective and timely processing of asylum cases in the asylum and immigration systems.
“In a world afflicted by violence, the U.S. must work to ensure that those seeking asylum in our country receive the full support, protection, and fairness of our law,” Ibrahim concluded.