Senate Immigration Bill Moves Forward with Protections for Refugees
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First welcomes the progress made on immigration reform today when the Senate voted to end debate on Senator Leahy’s Amendment 1183, as modified to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). The bill includes provisions which strengthen the U.S. asylum system. The organization notes that the bill represents significant progress to improve U.S. asylum and refugee programs, which are critical to the preserve the long tradition of American leadership in refugee protection.
“Today’s vote is an important step forward in advancing common sense fixes to the asylum system,” said Human Rights First’s Sara Ibrahim. “The refugee provisions in today’s bill will not only improve the efficiency of the asylum system, they are also consistent with American values, commitment to fairness, and human rights.”
Human Rights First notes that S. 744 includes several important improvements to the asylum system in an amendment named to honor the late Senator Lautenberg’s commitment to refugees and asylum seekers. These provisions include:
- Elimination of the unfair and wasteful asylum filing deadline bar for asylum seekers;
- Better protections for to keep refugee families intact;
- Improving efficiencies for asylum determinations; and
- Protections for stateless persons in the U.S.
The bill also contains provisions that will improve access to counsel for vulnerable populations, expand the cost-efficient Legal Orientation Program that provides a lifeline to immigrants in detention, and increase the use of cost-saving and humane alternatives to detention.
There is a long history of bipartisan support for the U.S. refugee and asylum systems; these common sense fixes have been endorsed over the years by bi-partisan task forces, U.S. government entities, corrections professionals, faith leaders, and a range of groups from across the political spectrum. The asylum and refugee provisions are supported by faith-based and other NGO groups, which advocated strongly for the inclusion of asylum and refugee protections in the bill.
“Refugees are an important group of immigrants that do not often get the attention that they need. We appreciate the broad coalition that supports the refugee and asylum programs, and value the support that these provisions received to be included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill,” said Ibrahim.
Human Rights First praises the Senate Gang of Eight, which included the asylum and refugee provisions in their base bill, and the leadership of Senators Leahy and Durbin, who kept these provisions in the bill through mark-up and floor consideration.
In addition to the refugee provisions, Human Rights First expressed concern over the further escalation of border security measures as a central tenet of the amended bill and their potential impact on refugees seeking asylum as well as other U.S. and immigrant communities. If enforcement and border patrol measures expand to fulfill the intent of this legislation, Human Rights First urges the administration to implement meaningful oversight and accountability measures, as well as rigorous training of border and immigration enforcement officers in immigration laws, including screening, identifying, and addressing vulnerable populations, such as individuals fleeing persecution or torture.