Washington Week on Human Rights: May 9, 2016

Top News

Global Refugee Crisis

Last week, the State Department released its official resettlement numbers for April, indicating that it resettled 451 Syrian refugees last month. This brings the seven-month total for this fiscal year to 1,736 Syrian refugees, only 17.4 percent of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the U.S. government has pledged to resettle by September 30, 2016. While the April numbers indicate a slight improvement in the pace of resettlement of vulnerable Syrian families, the United States is still alarmingly behind its resettlement goal. Human Rights First is calling on the United States to enhance efforts to address resettlement backlogs and delays that are hampering the country’s ability to meet its very modest goals. The United States has the capacity and security processes in place to lead a comprehensive global effort to address the refugee crisis and resettle far beyond 10,000 Syrian refugees. National security experts have explained that increased U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees would protect the stability of important U.S. allies in the region, as detailed in Human Rights First’s February report, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership.” A December 2015 letter from a bipartisan group of 20 former U.S. national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of state, defense, and homeland security confirms that Syrian refugees are vetted more intensively than any other traveler to the United States.


This week the Senate Armed Services Committee will consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill that sets the annual budget and polices for the Department of Defense. The NDAA typically includes a provision to extend the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for the interpreters and translators who served alongside U.S. troops. This year, the SIV program could be at risk, with the introduction of limits to eligibility criteria and a reduction in the number of visas granted. In advance of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Veterans for American Ideals submitted a letter to the committee expressing support for the program to preserve eligibility for Afghan allies who worked in support roles. The State Department reported in January 2016 that more than 10,000 Afghan applicants were in the SIV application process, but fewer than 4,000 visas remained. The letter urged Congress to authorize additional visas, in order to avoid abandoning more than 6,000 Afghan allies to serious danger.
The NDAA will also impact continued efforts to shutter the U.S. government detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by leaving restrictions in place on transfers of detainees. Military leaders and experts have long urged for the removal of provisions that would effectively ban all transfers of individuals to the United States, no matter the reason.

Immigration Detention

Protests took place over the weekend outside the Berks County Residential Center, an immigration detention center that holds families. The Mother’s Day public action, now in its fourth year, was organized to draw attention to the plight of asylum-seeking mothers and children detained at Berks. Human Rights First continues to call on the Obama Administration to end its policy of detaining asylum-seeking families. In the summer of 2014, the administration announced its intention to detain large numbers of asylum-seeking families from Central America as part of a deterrence-based strategy to stop other children and families from migrating to the United States. In February Human Rights First released a summary of communications sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by some of the mothers detained at the Berks detention center. The mothers expressed concerns regarding the physical and mental wellbeing of their children. Their letters were published along with the responses they received from ICE officials, who did not respond to their health concerns and suggested the women accept an order of deportation. Earlier this year Pennsylvania authorities responded to the pleas of mothers, their lawyers, and advocates, and did not renew the Berks detention center’s license. Pennsylvania should now take the next step and seek an emergency removal order—which is within its authority—to free the asylum-seeking children and families detained at Berks. If and when Pennsylvania acts, ICE should allow the families to pursue their asylum claims in the community in the care of relatives who have been waiting to receive them.

Quote of the Week

“Now, as Secretary of State, let me assure you: when you consider the range of challenges that the world is struggling with, most countries don’t lie awake at night worrying about America’s presence; they worry about what would happen in our absence.

“… For us, the lessons of history are clear.

“We don’t see an excuse for inaction. We see a mandate to lead. Because the greatest challenges that our world confronts are best addressed – and in some cases can only be addressed – by good and capable people working in common cause with citizens of other nations.”

–Secretary of State John Kerry, delivering the keynote address at Northeastern University’s commencement ceremonies.

We’re Reading

A letter from Human Rights First’s Raha Wala in The New York Times notes that President Obama should act now to ensure that his legacy is not a “forever war.”

The Hill reports on the Obama Administration’s increased efforts to speed up Periodic Review Boards for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

In TIME, Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino and the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt write about the need for OSCE countries to effectively address hate crime.

The Hollywood Reporter reports on increasing usage of O-1B temporary work visas in Hollywood. The expedited program, which is most notably used by members of the entertainment industry, shortens the process down to as little as two weeks, while refugees typically wait multiple years for visas.

Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter, JAGC, USN (Ret.) writes in The Houston Chronicle about the need to adequately fund efforts to combat human trafficking.   

We’re Listening To

NPR’s Embedded explores the inner workings of an immigration court in remote Lumpkin, Georgia, its 97 percent deportation rate, and the broader picture of immigration during the Obama Administration.

Around Town

Monday, May 9, 2016

New America will hold a discussion entitled “Islamist Terrorism in Europe: A History.” The discussion will feature Petter Nesser, senior research fellow for the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment; and David Sterman, senior program associate in the New America International Security Program. 12:30 PM, New America, 740 15th Street NW, Suite 900, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Hudson Institute will hold a discussion entitled “The Middle East in Crisis.” The discussion will feature Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL; and Michael Doran, senior fellow at The Hudson Institute. 12:00 PM, Hudson Institute, 1201 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C.

CSIS will hold a discussion entitled “Breaking ISIL’s Brand,” as part of the CSIS-Schieffer Dialogues series. The discussion will feature Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel; former State Department Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; David Sanger, national security correspondent at the New York Times; and Bob Schieffer, former host of “Face the Nation.” 5:00 PM, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Second Floor Conference Center, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will hold a discussion entitled “Transforming U.S. Policy for a New Middle East.” The discussion will feature Charles Freeman Jr., chairman of the Board of Projects International Inc., and author of “America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East”; William Quandt, chair of the University of Virginia Department of Politics; and Michele Dunne, director of the CEIP Middle East Program. 3:30 PM, CEIP, 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Dorothy Day Catholic Worker will host a discussion entitled “Targeting Muslims at Home and Abroad.” The discussion will feature Maha Hilal, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms. 7:30 PM, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, 503 Rock Creek Church Road NW, Washington, D.C.

On The Hill

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “Oversight and Reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act: The Balance between National Security, Privacy and Civil Liberties.” 10:00 AM, 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a closed markup of S.2814, the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2017.” 9:30 AM, 222 Russell Senate Office Building.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a closed markup of S.2814, the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2017.” 9:30 AM, 222 Russell Senate Office Building.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a markup of S.247 “The Expatriate Terrorist Act.”10:00 AM, 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a closed markup of S.2814, the “National Defense Authorization Act for FY2017.” 9:30 AM, 222 Russell Senate Office Building.


Published on May 9, 2016


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