Immigration Executive Action Should Include Reforms to Protect Refugees, Asylum Seekers
New York City – As President Obama announces a series of executive actions on immigration tonight, Human Rights First urges the administration to right its course on treatment of asylum seekers and address a number of long-standing problems in the asylum and immigration systems. The president is expected to defer deportation and provide work permission for up to 5 million immigrants who are presently in the United States without authorization.
“The United States has a long history of providing protection for people fleeing persecution, trafficking, and other serious human rights violations,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “President Obama should use his executive authority to take a number of critical, and in some cases long overdue, steps to address particularly acute problems that impact the U.S. asylum and immigration systems daily.”
Tonight’s presidential address comes days after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its decision to move forward in December with a new detention facility to hold families with children in Dilley, Texas. The facility will house up to 2,400 individuals, some of whom may be transferred from the makeshift Artesia, New Mexico facility. Human Rights First has noted that this is a continuation of misguided policies that undermine U.S. global leadership in protecting refugees. In a letter today signed by Human Rights First and dozens of non-profit, faith-based, human rights, legal service, immigration bar association, refugee assistance, and domestic violence organizations and legal professors, the president was urged to adopt reform policies to protect the persecuted and the rule of law.
Human Rights First researchers conducted multiple visits this year to immigration detention facilities, key border points, border patrol stations, and asylum offices along the southern border and in particular in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The trips helped Human Rights First to identify workable solutions for improving the asylum system and honoring our nation’s commitment to refugee protection. Among the reforms President Obama should announce tonight, Human Rights First recommends including the following:
- End the detention of families with children, and abandon the policy of automatically opposing requests from mothers and children for release on bond;
- Use case management and other effective and cost-efficient alternative appearance support mechanisms rather than detention for asylum seekers including families with children;
- Take additional steps to support access to legal representation and address the “rocket dockets” that undermine due process for children and families;
- Prioritize full funding for immigration courts and asylum offices, so all cases – not only those from the border – receive a hearing or interview in a timely manner, rather than waiting years; and
- Strengthen measures for identifying and protecting asylum seekers and those at risk of trafficking in all border processes.
As part of his plan, the president is expected to announce measures to further increase enforcement along the U.S. southern border.
“Any steps relating to enforcement along the border should include measures to address the glaring gaps in protection for refugees seeking asylum and children at risk of trafficking,” Acer noted. “Any additional ‘surge’ of resources to the border should include a comparable surge in protection and due process resources, including sufficient staffing for the asylum office and immigration courts to address their backlogs and adjudicate all cases – not just those that originate at the border—in a timely manner. Congress too should act to support these critical reforms.”