Senate Urged to Fix U.S. Asylum System in Immigration Legislation
Washington, D.C. – In a statement submitted today to the Senate Judiciary Committee for its hearing on “Building an Immigration System Worthy of American Values,” Human Rights First urged Congress to seize the opportunity to renew America’s promise to refugees. The statement submitted for this afternoon’s hearing urges Congress to live up to its commitment to those who seek protection by repairing the U.S. asylum system as part of any comprehensive immigration reform legislation. It also highlights four main problems in the current asylum system and provides detailed recommendations to address each.
Human Rights First emphasizes that protection of asylum seekers has always been a core American value and commitment. The United States has a long history of providing refuge to victims of religious, political, ethnic, and other forms of persecution.
“U.S. leadership in the protection of refugees is also about how this country treats refugees who seek asylum here in the United States, and about whether this country’s policies and programs – including its approach to immigration law enforcement – live up to the same standards we call on the rest of the world to respect,” Human Rights First noted the statement.
According to Human Rights First, Congress and the president can strengthen basic due process, fix the nation’s flawed approach to immigration detention, and realize the full potential of America’s commitment to refugees in immigration reform legislation. Human Rights Firsts recommendations include: eliminating the unfair asylum filing deadline from immigration law; reducing unnecessary immigration detention costs and implementing lasting reforms; requiring and supporting a fair and efficient adjudication process; and protecting refugees from inappropriate exclusion and freeing up administrative resources. President Obama included elimination of the asylum filing deadline and improving our nation’s immigration courts in his principles for immigration reform released in January.
In many instances, reform of the flawed system would not only honor America’s commitment to refugees, but would eliminate unnecessary spending and administrative resources. The U.S. detention system, for example, costs taxpayers $2 billion annually, despite the availability of less costly, less restrictive, and highly successful alternatives to detention programs.
“The United States has faltered on its commitment to those who seek protection from persecution,” noted the statement. “These deficiencies not only have domestic consequences, but they also lower the global standard.”
Human Rights recently released a letter with 162 signatories urging President Obama and Congress to ensure that any final immigration reform package includes measures to restore America’s commitment to providing refuge to those who seek protection from persecution. The signatories gathered by Human Rights First include national refugee protection organizations, faith based groups, state and local organizations, and legal experts on the U.S. asylum system, such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas. The signatories urged the administration and Congress to work together to support the inclusion of the following changes in immigration reform legislation:
- Eliminate the unfair and wasteful asylum filing deadline, which bars bona fide refugees from protection.
- Require and support a fair and efficient adjudication process, including resources for immigration courts and improving access to counsel.
- Protect refugees from inappropriate exclusion and free up administrative resources.
- Implement lasting immigration detention reforms to protect detained individuals, including asylum seekers, and reduce unnecessary costs.
- Ensure adequate substantive and procedural safeguards for all child asylum seekers.
- Ensure that gender-based claims are properly recognized.
- Ensure that asylum-seekers interdicted in international or U.S. waters are not returned to persecution.
For more information, see Human Rights First’s recently released blueprints How to Repair the U.S. Asylum and Refugee Resettlement Systems and How to Repair the U.S. Immigration Detention System.