House Should Reject Bill that Would Bar Refugees from Protection

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today said the Michael Davis Jr., in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 1148) would undermine the United States’ commitment to refugee protection and human rights. The bill, which the House Judiciary Committee will mark up today, would undermine bipartisan efforts to protect those mislabeled as terrorists by the United States despite the fact that they are legitimately fleeing trauma and persecution.

“Today’s bill, if passed, would signal a troubling retreat from U.S. leadership on protecting the persecuted,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “The subcommittee should reject this bill that would deny refuge to innocent individuals based on overly-broad definitions in asylum law.”

In addition to defunding President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, the bill includes a number of provisions that would undermine due process, expand immigration detention in ways that are inconsistent with human rights standards, and bar innocent refugees who have not engaged in any wrongdoing from citizenship and other relief. With respect to refugees, the bill would, among other changes:

  • Criminalize refugees who flee from persecution using false documents, characterizing them as aggravated felon;
  • Penalize asylum seekers for reentry and jail asylum seekers for 10 years if they seek to re-enter the United States without authorization in order to seek U.S. Protection;
    Preclude some refugees from U.S. protection based on overly-broad definitions of “criminal gangs”;
  • Bar from naturalization innocent refugees who have already been extended exemptions from the immigration law’s overly-broad inadmissibility provisions, such as former Iraqi interpreters who worked for the United States but once opposed the rule of Saddam Hussein; and
  • Allow the denaturalization of U.S. citizens who engage in conduct that is not criminal under U.S. law after naturalization, including the provision of non-violent assistance to any non-state armed group, in any foreign country.

Certain provisions of U.S. immigration law are interpreted to define any group that takes up arms against any sitting government as a terrorist organization. These have been invoked to unfairly deny protection to innocent people, including people who aided groups that the United States also supported. As Secretaries John Kerry and Jeh Johnson have said, these overly-broad provisions of law are a bar to refugees “who do not pose a national security or public safety risk.” These refugees’ applications for asylum or for legal permanent residence are often placed on hold for extended periods of time or wrongly denied; this bill would extend these existing injustices to the naturalization process.

The House is also considering two other troubling bills, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act and the Protection of Children Act, that 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.

“These three pieces of legislation would erode the United States’ legacy as a haven for those fleeing violence and persecution,” noted Acer. “Congress has a responsibility to not lose sight of the United States’ obligation to those seeking protection.”

For more information see Human Rights First’s fact sheet, “Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act Would Return Persecuted Refugees and Children to Danger.” To speak with Acer, contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319.


Published on March 4, 2015


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