Senate Immigration Bill Threatens Refugees Fleeing Political and Religious Persecution
“If these provisions are enacted, they will undermine this country’s commitment to protecting those who flee political and religious persecution,” said Eleanor Acer, director of Human Rights First’s refugee protection program. “America’s historic role as a haven for refugees is at stake.”
The Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611) by a vote of 62-36 on Thursday evening, setting the stage for a conference committee showdown with H.R. 4437, the enforcement-only bill passed by the House of Representatives last December. Unlike the House immigration bill, the Senate bill would give many undocumented immigrants the right to work legally in this country, and would provide some with a path to citizenship.
Of particular concern to human rights advocates, both bills contain provisions that would put refugees at risk of increased detention, summary deportations, and criminal prosecutions if they use false documents to escape their countries.
Acer also noted a positive step in yesterday’s legislative process: passage of a bipartisan amendment, sponsored by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), that removed one particularly troubling provision from the Senate bill. The Feingold-Brownback Amendment, which passed by a vote of 52-45 just before final passage of S. 2611, preserved the ability of a federal court to prevent a refugee’s deportation while their asylum case is pending.
“The Feingold-Brownback amendment is an important measure to ensure that refugees are not mistakenly deported. But unless additional changes are made to the bill in conference, refugees who need our protection will end up being treated like criminals,” said Jay Staunton, legislative counsel for Human Rights First. “As Senate and House members negotiate their many differences in the upcoming Conference Committee, they must address provisions that put vulnerable refugees at risk of being returned to persecution.”