Leahy Bill Would Restore America’s Commitment to Refugee Protection

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First welcomes the introduction of the Refugee Protection Act of 2013, legislation the group notes would repair many of the most severe problems in the U.S. asylum and refugee systems and strengthen the U.S. commitment to providing refuge to victims of religious, political, ethnic and other forms of persecution. The group notes that the bill should be included in the final immigration reform package expected to emerge this year. Notably, like the president’s immigration reform principles, this bill eliminates the asylum filing deadline and makes improvements to our nation’s immigration courts.

“Immigration reform offers an important opportunity to consider and enact the Refugee Protection Act.  Refugee protection is an essential element of U.S. immigration policy, and  despite this country’s strong tradition of protecting refugees from persecution, a barrage of laws, policies and practices have badly damaged our asylum system over the years,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “These flaws have led the United States to deny its protection to refugees who have fled from serious political, religious and other forms of persecution. The Refugee Protection Act would address many of these concerns and help restore our nation’s commitment to protecting vulnerable refugees.” The bill was also introduced in the 112th and 111th Congresses.

Human Rights First notes that asylum seekers are sometimes detained in the United States without basic due process safeguards, and their access to asylum has been limited because of a technical filing deadline, lack of legal counsel, overly-broad exclusion provisions and maritime interdiction polices.  Even refugees with well-founded fears of persecution are denied asylum due to these flawed laws and policies. In some cases, their asylum requests are delayed for years due to inefficiencies and delays in the system. The Refugee Protection Act of 2013 is championed in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and co-sponsored by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)  introduced a companion bill in the House that is co-sponsored by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Jared Polis (D-CO), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), and Peter Welch (D-VT). The bill includes provisions that would:

  • Eliminate the asylum filing deadline that bars refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from asylum;
  • Require a secure alternatives to detention program with individualized case management and referrals to community based organizations;
  • Authorize the appointment of counsel where fair resolution or effective adjudication would be served;
  • Clarify the requirements for asylum so that the asylum requests of vulnerable individuals, including women fleeing gender-based persecution, are adjudicated fairly and consistently; and
  • Protect refugees from inappropriate exclusion by refining immigration law definitions to target actual terrorists, as opposed to hurting thousands of legitimate refugees who are not guilty of any wrongdoing and pose no threat to American security.

“The Refugee Protection Act would restore – and renew – not only our commitment to protect the persecuted but also our moral authority to lead the global community in addressing the plight of persecuted and displaced people around the world,” concluded Acer. “It will also improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this country’s process for adjudicating asylum cases.”

Read Human Rights First’s summary of the Refugee Protection Act.

Read the Refugee Protection Act of 2013.


Published on March 22, 2013


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