Human Rights First Heralds Legislation to Restore American Leadership to Refugee Protection

Legislation will overhaul the American refugee system to reassert humane U.S. leadership on refugee protection and resettlement

WASHINGTON – Today, Human Rights First lauds Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) for introducing the Refugee Protection Act, a bill that will modernize and strengthen the U.S. refugee protection and resettlement programs, restoring American leadership on realizing the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. Since the beginning of his administration, President Trump has sought to dismantle the legal immigration processes designed to give safe haven to refugees and safety to those fleeing for their lives.

“For decades the United States was the global leader in refugee protection, admitting and resettling refugees and asylum-seekers desperate for safety,” said Jennifer Quigley, director of refugee advocacy at Human Rights First, an independent advocacy and action organization challenging America to live up to its values. “The past three years have done serious damage to that reputation and to the systems needed to welcome refugees and asylum-seekers. The legislation introduced today begins to restore American leadership on refugee protection and improve and modernize the systems to respect human rights.”

The Refugee Protection Act works to walk back some of the most damaging, and in many cases illegal policies enacted by the Trump Administration. The bill requires the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program goal each year not fall below 95,000 refugees the historic average for the program that was established in 1980 with bipartisan support and has been decimated by the president setting consecutive record low admission ceilings including an all-time low of only 18,000  for 2019. The bill also establishes the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as areas of special humanitarian concern, creating a pathway for refugees from this region.

“This bill also takes steps to restore dignity and due process for asylum seekers, which have been devastated in the last three years,” said Quigley. “The administration has separated families, detained children in deplorable conditions, forced those seeking refuge at the border to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico and cut off access to asylum for nearly everyone who seeks safety at our southern border. This bill will reorient how the United States treats those fleeing for their lives, particularly children. It establishes a presumption of release from detention, provides legal counsel for very vulnerable cases and makes gender-based and gang-related violence asylum claims more viable.”

The legislation also protects victims of crime in the U.S. and those who work to support U.S. troops in the field of war. In the wake of the United States’ abandonment of Kurdish allies, the bill would also create a new category of refugees of special humanitarian concern for Syrian Kurdish allies and other Syrians in imminent danger following U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria.

“Thousands of refugees fill the ranks of our armed services and thousands more support the United States as critical wartime allies on the ground in combat zones. These allies have been responsible for saving countless Americans,” said Chris Purdy, retired Army vet and an advocate with Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First. “This bill shows our allies that the U.S. military stands with our allies and can protect those who work with us. With this bill, we can begin to restore trust with Iraqis, Afghans, Kurds and Syrians who have worked with the American military.”


Published on November 21, 2019


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