Suspension of Asylum Grants Would Put Vulnerable Individuals at Risk

New York City—Human Rights First today expressed grave concerns about reports that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has suspended decision-making in asylum and other applications for nationals of Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen pending issuance of formal guidance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The reports come following last week’s executive order that suspended visas for immigrant and nonimmigrant entry from these seven Muslim-majority nations.

Human Rights First urges the Department of Homeland Security to make clear that these adjudications should restart again later this week. The agency is expected to issue formal guidance in the coming days.

“A ban or suspension on asylum grants to refugees from Syria, Iraq, and the other Muslim-majority countries would hurt U.S. national interests and sends the wrong signal to the many countries in the developing world that host far more refugees than the United States. Many of these refugees have already been waiting years to have their applications for asylum adjudicated in our backlogged asylum system,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “This would derail asylum applications for a range of asylum seekers from the targeted countries, including pro-democracy activists persecuted by repressive regimes, victims of persecution from Darfur, Syrians and Somalis who have fled terror, and refugees who have been targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Human Rights First and its pro bono attorneys have many refugee clients who have been desperately waiting for U.S adjudicators to determine their cases, all while their children and spouses have been stranded, often in life-threatening situations abroad.

A ban or suspension targeting asylum seekers from these countries would also violate U.S. treaty commitments under the Refugee Convention and Protocol, which are the law of the land under the U.S. Constitution.

“The individuals targeted in the ban come from countries with some of the worst human rights records in the world,” said Acer. “People fleeing these countries have typically faced horrific political, religious, ethnic, and other forms of persecution. As a global leader, the United States should be clear that it intends to uphold—rather than subvert—its legal commitments under international law.”

While some reports have indicated that DHS may also seek to prohibit the adjudication of employment authorization to nationals of these countries, Human Rights First warns that such a move would leave these asylum seekers with no way to work to feed and support themselves and their families, effectively condemning these asylum seekers and their families for starvation. The organization also notes that the number of affirmative asylum applications from these countries is small.

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced. Over 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Human Rights First’s report “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership” details how many of these refugees have been stranded for years in neighboring countries where they cannot work or support their families, have little access to education, and lack the level of humanitarian assistance they need. Frontline states and key U.S. allies including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan continue to host the majority of the nearly 5 million refugees who have fled Syria, struggling under the strain of hosting so many refugees.

Former U.S. military leaders and former U.S. national security officials, who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations, have urged that “Welcoming refugees, regardless of their religion or race, exposes the falseness of terrorist propaganda and counters the warped vision of extremists,” and that “religious bans and tests are un-American and have no place in our immigration and refugee policies.”


Published on January 31, 2017


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