Human Rights First Responds to State of the Union Address

New York: In his State of the Union address last night, President Biden prioritized rights and freedoms, but his speech excluded the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.  Human Rights First applauds his proposals to safeguard democracy and support Ukraine; the organization urges the administration to uphold the legal right to seek asylum and rethink its proposals that would decimate the U.S. asylum system and threaten the lives of those coming to this country seeking safety from violence and persecution.

“The broad agenda that President Biden shared in his address has many strengths, but it also raises some deep concerns,” said Jennifer Quigley, Vice President of Government Affairs at Human Rights First.  “His continued efforts to safeguard our democracy are important – Congress must pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Yet we continue to be gravely concerned by President Biden’s push for inhumane policies that would destroy our asylum system. The President cannot learn soon enough that no one is ‘illegal;’ this is a racist term used to dehumanize all migrants. Americans and migrants ‘all come from somewhere’ and all seek to live in safety.”

In his address, President Biden said, “We can fight about the border, or we can fix it.” Human Rights First has proposed real solutions that would make our immigration system more efficient, fair, and humane. We urge policymakers to maximize asylum processing at ports of entry, invest in asylum adjudications, and strengthen reception and community-based support both at the border and in communities welcoming asylum seekers throughout the country.

“The President and Congress must stop playing political games with the lives of migrants and refugees. The Senate immigration bill that the President championed in the address would not save lives or resolve problems at the border or in our immigration system. It would codify Trump-era policies that violate refugee law, were counterproductive to border management, and inflicted horrific harm,” said Robyn Barnard, Senior Director for Refugee Advocacy at Human Rights First. “It was also deeply disappointing to hear the President of the United States, who said he ‘will not demonize immigrants,’ refer to them as ‘illegals,’ needlessly adopting dehumanizing language that does exactly that.”

“Human Rights First welcomes President Biden’s vocal support for Ukraine in the face of continued Russian aggression and atrocities, as well as his calls for the release of Americans wrongfully detained by the Russian government,” said Adam Keith, Senior Director for Accountability at Human Rights First. “But the Russian political prisoners Putin has jailed for criticizing his abuses need U.S. support too, including our colleague, the democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza. We urge the administration to do much more to advocate for their release.”

Kara-Murza, a U.S. green card holder, has been a powerful voice for human rights, the rule of law, and freedom in Russia and an outspoken critic of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. In 2022, he was arbitrarily detained by Russian authorities on spurious charges of treason and is currently serving an unjust 25-year prison sentence. As Kara-Murza’s health has deteriorated, Human Rights First has urged the State Department to designate him as a “wrongfully detained” U.S. national under the Levinson Act, which would allow the State Department to negotiate for his release.


Published on March 8, 2024


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