New Bill Would Strengthen the U.S. Asylum System
Washington, DC – Today, Representatives Forney “Pete” Stark (D-CA/13th), Jim Moran (D-VA/8th) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA/16th) introduced the Restoring Protection to Victims of Persecution Act of 2011 (H.R. 2981), a bill that would strengthen the U.S. asylum system by eliminating the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications. Human Rights First welcomes this important legislative initiative. “Eliminating the filing deadline would strengthen the asylum system by protecting refugees from arbitrary asylum denials, reducing inefficiencies caused by this technical requirement, and allowing adjudicators to focus their time on the merits of applicants’ asylum claims, rather than technicalities relating to this procedural impediment,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. In a report from October 2010, “The Asylum Filing Deadline: Denying Protection to the Persecuted and Undermining Governmental Efficiency,” Human Rights First documented how the one year asylum filing deadline has barred thousands of refugees with well-founded fears of religious, political and other forms of persecution from receiving asylum in the United States. The report also detailed the cases of refugees who fled political, religious and other forms of persecution in Burma, Burundi, China, Congo, Eritrea, and other places only to have their requests for asylum in the United States denied or significantly delayed because of the filing deadline. The report also explained that this procedural obstacle has also resulted in increased costs and delays in the asylum adjudication system. According to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), between 1998 – when the filing deadline went into effect as a bar to asylum – and 2010, more than 53,400 applicants have had their requests for asylum denied, rejected or delayed because of the filing deadline. This number has included Human Rights First pro bono clients from China, Colombia, Iraq, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. A recent independent analysis of DHS data conducted by professors at Georgetown Law concluded that during this time period it is likely that more than 15,000 asylum applications – representing more than 21,000 refugees – would have been granted asylum without the need for further litigation if not for the filing deadline. “The filing deadline pushes the cases of credible refugees with well-founded fears of persecution into the overburdened immigration court system and diverts limited time and resources that could be more efficiently allocated to assessing the actual merits of asylum applications,” explained Acer. “This bill would prevent the waste of scarce government resources by allowing credible, qualifying applications to be approved at the asylum office level, regardless of when they are filed.” At the time of its passage, Congress committed to reevaluating the one-year filing deadline if it negatively impacted bona fide refugees. Human Rights First commends Representatives Stark, Moran and Lofgren for fulfilling this promise and championing legislation to eliminate this arbitrary barrier to asylum protection.