President’s Immigration Reform, National Security Promises Aim to Strengthen America

Washington, D.C. – Tonight, in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino issued the following statement:

“President Obama hit the nail on the head tonight when he said that America’s national security is best served by policies rooted in our values. I applaud his commitment to work tirelessly to ‘forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations.’ He also deserves praise for pledges to provide more transparency with regard to the U.S. targeted killing program, detention practices and prosecutions of terrorists.

“I am also pleased to hear the president reiterate his promise to work with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that reduces bureaucracy and preserves America’s long legacy as a beacon for immigrants from around the globe. While these words are welcome, they must be followed by action. We look forward to working with lawmakers to turn these promises into policy realities to strengthen America and its role in the world.”

Human Rights First notes that as military efforts in Afghanistan draw to a close and the administration enters a new phase in advancing national security, President Obama and Congress should take steps to align the nation’s policies with American values and ideals. Human Rights First notes that important steps toward this goal include closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a priority President Obama reiterated during his last campaign, as well as providing more transparency about how the United States conducts its targeted killing programs abroad. In addition, Human Rights First urges the administration to tell Congress that it will cooperate with the Senate intelligence committee to publicly release, with as few redactions as possible, the committee’s recently adopted report on the CIA torture program that occurred in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

With regard to immigration reform, Human Rights First urges the President and Congress to work together to create a bill that includes provisions to repair the asylum system, such as:

  • Eliminate the wasteful and counter-productive asylum filing deadline that is barring refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from asylum and diverting overstretched adjudication resources.
  • Reduce unnecessary immigration detention costs and implement lasting reforms through cost-effective alternatives to detention, immigration court review of detention decisions, and standards and conditions in line with the American Bar Association’s proposed civil immigration detention standards.
  • Require and support a fair and efficient adjudication process, providing for Legal Orientation Programs and counsel where justice requires, including for children, persons with mental disabilities, and other vulnerable immigrants in immigration detention.
  • Protect refugees from inappropriate exclusion and free up administrative resources by adjusting overly broad immigration law definitions that have mislabeled refugees as supporters of “terrorism.”

In December, Human Rights First released a series of blueprints that outline practical steps lawmakers and the administration can take to address some of the most pressing human rights issues in the world today, including How to Repair the U.S. Asylum and Refugee Resettlement Systems and How to Repair the U.S. Immigration Detention System.


Published on February 12, 2013


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