White House Budget Fails to Provide Adequate Funding to Protect Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First said today that the White House’s failure to request funding to increase immigration court capacity and the small increase of the ceiling on refugee resettlement are inadequate if the United States is to demonstrate meaningful leadership in addressing the global refugee crisis. The budget fails to include funding for additional immigration judge teams, and includes funding to increase the number of refugees resettled in the United States this year to a total of 100,000. This reflects an increase of only 15,000 over fiscal year 2016.

“Due to the unprecedented backlogs and significant under-staffing in the immigration courts, it is disappointing that the administration has failed to request a significant increase in capacity, especially as many asylum seekers are waiting years for their hearings,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “These delays can also undermine the integrity of the system. There is strong bipartisan support for addressing the backlog, a move that will strengthen the effectiveness, fairness and integrity of the immigration court removal system.”

Provisions in last year’s White House budget were to provide funds for an additional 55 immigration judge teams to address the backlog in pending cases before the court and increasing wait times for cases to come before a judge. Given the size of the backlog, we urge appropriators to provide support in Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations for 75 more immigration judge teams.

The Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is currently managing the largest caseload the system has ever seen. There are nearly 500,000 cases currently pending before the immigration court; the average wait time is approximately 3 years.

The delays also prolong the separation of refugee families—by years— leaving the children and spouses of some refugees stranded in difficult and dangerous situations abroad while they await a grant of asylum. The backlogs resulting from insufficient staffing and resources can also undermine the integrity of the system by allowing individuals who have no claim to relief to stay in the country for years while awaiting a court date.

Experts from across the political spectrum have called for an increase in immigration judges and staff, as well as the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, other faith-based and refugee assistance groups, and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, which consists of the pro bono leaders of many of the nations leading law firms. Both the American Bar Association and the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) have expressed concern that the immigration courts do not have the resources necessary to deal with their caseloads.

Additionally, Human Rights First notes that the increase in the ceiling for U.S. resettlement of refugees by only 15,000 fails to provide the kind of global leadership needed to address the global refugee crisis. The organization continues to call on the United States to lead by example by significantly increasing its resettlement commitments and humanitarian assistance, especially to front-line states bordering Syria.

Over 4 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Syrian border states, including Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, continue to host the majority of these refugees, who have fled horrific violence and conflict in their country. Many have been stranded for years without the ability to work to support their families, with little access to education and a lack of the level of basic humanitarian assistance they need. Faced with insufficient humanitarian, development and resettlement support, these countries have implemented border restrictions that have effectively closed the border for refugees, leaving many trapped within Syria or forced to take dangerous journeys in search of safety.

“An increase in resettlement of only 15,000 for next year falls far short of the kind of leadership role the United States should be playing, particularly given the size and scale of the global refugee crisis and its impact on key U.S. Allies,” saidAcer. “The United States can and should play a leadership role in addressing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Bold leadership, that encourages other countries to also do more, will require a more significant increase in resettlement, humanitarian assistance and development aid to refugee-hosting communities abroad.”

A bipartisan group of former government officials, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jewish and other faith groups, and refugee aid groups and advocates, have called for a much bolder U.S. resettlement initiative that should include the resettlement of 100,000 Syrian refugees. A bipartisan group of high level former national seucrity leaders have pointed out that U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees advances national security interests and is consistent with American ideas.

Press

Published on February 9, 2016

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