In Testimony, Human Rights First Urges U.S. to Protect National Security while Upholding Human Rights of Refugees

Washington, D.C.—In testimony before the House of Representatives, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer urged the U.S. government to take steps to protect our national security while also complying with human rights and refugee protection commitments. Acer is testifying today before a joint hearing with the Subcommittee on National Security and the Subcommittee on Government Operations on “National Security: Threats at Our Borders.”

“Protecting the persecuted is a core American value. Reflecting this country’s deep-seated commitment to liberty and human dignity, as well as its pledge under the Refugee Convention’s Protocol, the United States has long led efforts to protect those who flee from political, religious, and other persecution,” stated Acer during her testimony. “U.S. leadership in protecting refugees is not only consistent with American ideals, it also advances U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced. Over 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Syrian border states, including Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, continue to host the majority of these refugees, who have fled horrific violence and conflict in their country. On the United States’ southern border, thousands of asylum-seekers, including mothers and their children, are fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.

In today’s testimony, Acer noted that the United States is facing much smaller numbers of asylum seekers at our borders than the numbers facing the states surrounding Syria, and those countries have far fewer resources and much less capacity than the United States. The United States must lead by example in order to encourage other states to continue to do their part in addressing the global refugee crisis.

Human Rights First notes that the United States has rigorous systems at its borders and ports of entry for identifying potential threats, and access to a wide range of databases to identify security threats, foreign fighters, false passports and other risks. These include databases with access to a wide range of law enforcement and counterterrorism related information from a variety of federal, state, local, and foreign sources, including records pertaining to known or suspected terrorists, wanted persons, and persons of interest for law enforcement and counterterrorism purposes. These mechanisms should be regularly reviewed and strengthened as necessary. In addition to vetting through CBP and its databases, U.S. authorities have a range of effective tools to identify potential threats or abuse in connection with any protection requests at the border.

Human Rights First recommends the following steps to strengthen U.S. processes for identifying and protecting refugees at U.S. borders and ports of entry:

  • Address the ballooning backlog in the immigration courts.
  • Support expansion of legal orientation programs and access to counsel measures that improve fairness and efficiency.
  • Remove unnecessary impediments that delay cases and block refugees from this country’s protection, including elimination of the asylum filing deadline.
  • End detention of families seeking asylum.
  • Implement U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommendations on those fleeing religious and other forms of persecution.

Published on March 23, 2016


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