New Report Documents Decades of Harm to Refugees on the Basis of a Technical Filing Requirement, Urgently Calls For Its Repeal

NEW YORK Human Rights First today released a new report documenting the harms that the one-year filing deadline ban has inflicted on tens of thousands of refugees for decades, including deportation to persecution and torture, family separation, and permanent legal limbo in the United States. The filing ban bars asylum for any individual who does not apply for protection within one year of arriving in the United States.

Enacted in 1996 over opposition from the U.N. Refugee Agency and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, the ban violates the U.S. and international protections for refugees and wastes government resources.

“It is far past time for Congress to eliminate this unlawful and inhumane barrier to refugee protection,” said Rebecca Gendelman, Pennoyer Fellow for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “Beyond inflicting tremendous cruelty on refugees seeking safety in the United States and running afoul of the government’s obligations under U.S. and international law, the filing ban also wastes government resources by exacerbating the immigration court backlog and expending resources over the litigation of a technicality.”

The report, “Draconian Deadline: Asylum Filing Ban Denies Protection, Separates Families,” details how the filing deadline, ​​which adds thousands of cases per year to the immigration court backlog, is inefficient counterproductive, inhumane, and unlawful. The ban is especially cruel because it is often impossible for refugees to apply for asylum within one year, as many are unable to secure legal counsel, do not speak English, do not know that they are eligible for asylum or that they are required to apply within one year, or are too traumatized by the persecution or torture they suffered to file a timely application.

The report profiles refugees denied solely because of the filing deadline ban, including a Guinean man who was imprisoned and tortured by military police officers for being a suspected dissident; an LGBT Salvadoran man who was abducted by government agents and physically, sexually, and verbally assaulted for his sexual orientation; and a Tanzanian woman who was detained by her country’s government and raped, burned, and beaten.

Barred from asylum by the filing deadline ban, the only option for many refugees is to seek withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture, minimal forms of relief that are nearly impossible to obtain and do not confer permanent legal status, force refugees to live under constant threat of deportation, and do not allow them to reunify with their families. Refugees unable to meet the heightened standard for these forms of protection are ordered deported to danger.

Contrary to its purported justification, the ban has no basis as an anti-fraud measure. The former Immigration and Naturalization Service opposed the ban when it was enacted, explaining that it would “frustrate and hamper efforts” to reform and was unnecessary because other measures had already successfully addressed abuse in the asylum system. Decades of needless imposition of the filing deadline ban have confirmed that it is counterproductive and unnecessary.

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, introduced in Congress in February 2021, would eliminate the asylum filing deadline ban. A provision to eliminate the filing deadline ban was also included in the bi-partisan Senate immigration reform bill of 2013 and successive versions of the Refugee Protection Act.

Human Rights First calls on Congress to pass legislation to repeal this harmful ban, which would save people from a return to persecution and torture and permit refugees to reunite with families and secure stable legal status in the United States. The Biden administration should also ensure that asylum seekers who qualify for exceptions to the filing deadline are granted asylum and that their cases do not needlessly contribute to the backlog of immigration court cases and appeals.


Published on September 30, 2021


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