Human Rights First Opposes Provisions that Undermine Protection and Fair Process in Supplemental Appropriations Bill H.R. 5230
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today expressed serious concern over several provisions in H.R. 5230, a bill expected to be considered on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday as a supplemental appropriation responding to the refugee and humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children, families, and others on the southern U.S. border. The organization notes that legislation is needed to appropriate funds to respond to the crisis for the rest of Fiscal Year 2014, but that H.R. 5230 threatens to do more damage to the asylum system because it focuses primarily on enforcement measures without allocating sufficient funds for the immigration courts that handle cases at the border and nationwide. The organization is also concerned about rushed adjudications of the cases of unaccompanied children, who would receive entirely inadequate protection from a return to persecution or threats of human trafficking in their home countries under these proposals.
“While the bill includes a slight increase for the immigration courts and extends funding for Health and Human Services (HHS), H.R. 5230 would strip unaccompanied immigrant children of the already limited procedural protections afforded to them under current law, while doing little to address the many resource gaps that threaten the integrity of this country’s asylum and immigration system and endanger refugees seeking protection,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Instead of restricting access to protection and potential relief, Congress should adopt measures that allow for fair case-by-case determinations of those fleeing persecution, better fund our overburdened immigration courts, safeguard access to protection, and turn to more appropriate custody options and alternatives to detention.”
The bill provides a small, but an insufficient increase of $22 million for immigration court resources in the Department of Justice. The bill calls for the temporary appointment of up to 40 new temporary immigration judges, but limits their use to proceedings aimed at the expedited deportation of unaccompanied children. Human Rights First has consistently noted that immigration court backlogs nationwide undermine the integrity of the immigration system, and that full staffing for immigration court proceedings would add at least 75 new immigration judge teams each fiscal year. The bill also provides funding for increased detention, despite the existence of more cost-effective, humane and proven alternatives.
The bill also proposes rolling back screening protections in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), and would require rushed immigration court hearings for unaccompanied children. Human Rights First joins a broad group of nonprofit organizations and coalitions including the Evangelical Immigration Table and more than 110 organizations in raising concerns about changes to the TVPRA.
“At a time when there are serious concerns about the vulnerability of these children to harm, it makes less sense than ever to rollback protections,” said Acer. “Congress should maintain TVPRA protections and strengthen measures such as legal orientation and access to counsel for children.”
The bill makes no provision for the appointment of counsel for these children, while allowing their cases to be heard on an unrealistically short schedule by video or even by telephone conference. Counsel has been proven essential in navigating the complex asylum and immigration laws for any immigrant population; multiple studies have documented the connection between counsel and a successful immigration claim, and having counsel also contributes to efficiencies in the immigration adjudication process. The bill would also unwisely expand the “serious non-political crime” bar to asylum protection.
Human Rights First urges Congress to pass legislation that provides concrete and compassionate solutions. Congress and the administration should support efforts to address the human rights conditions in Central America prompting many to flee their homes and to target smugglers who are preying on these children. Furthermore, we urge Congress to appropriate much needed funds to address deficiencies in our immigration system without further restrictions on already complicated laws, especially without changes to the TVPRA and asylum laws. Congress should:
- Properly resource the Asylum Office screening processes and the Immigration Courts to reduce backlogs and vulnerability to abuse;
- For adults and families apprehended at the border, support efforts to expand nationwide use of cost-effective and humane alternatives to detention in place of immigration detention, for those who need additional supervision to support appearance;
- Address misinformation of persons arriving at the border by supporting prompt access to legal information and counsel; and
- Not weaken protection safeguards.
For more information or to speak with Acer, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at [email protected] or 212-845-5269.