March 15 Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Refugee Protection Act of 2011. The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MA), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and Dick Durbin (D-IL). Companion legislation will be introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
This bill would repair some of the most severe problems in the U.S. asylum and refugee systems and strengthen the U.S. commitment to providing refuge to victims of religious, political, ethnic, and other forms of persecution.
“Despite this country’s strong tradition of protecting refugees from persecution, a barrage of laws, policies, and practices have badly damaged our asylum system over the years,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.
“These flaws have led the United States to deny its protection to refugees who have fled from serious religious, political, ethnic, and other forms of persecution. The Refugee Protection Act would address some of the most severe problems in the system and help restore our nation’s commitment to protecting vulnerable refugees.”In 2010, Human Rights First issued “Renewing U.S. Commitment to Refugee Protection: Recommendations for Reform on the 30th Anniversary of the Refugee Act,” reporting that asylum seekers are detained in the United States without basic due process safeguards, and that their access to asylum has been limited because of technical filing deadlines, expedited screening procedures, overly broad exclusion provisions, and flawed maritime interdiction polices. Even refugees with well-founded fears of persecution are denied asylum due to these flawed laws and policies.
The new Refugee Protection Act of 2011 includes provisions that would:
- Eliminate the one-year asylum filing deadline that bars refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from asylum;
- Limit unnecessary and prolonged detention of asylum seekers by creating a secure alternatives to detention program, with individualized case management and additional safeguards, and require regulations establishing detention conditions that provide a “safe and humane“ environment;
- Allow asylum seekers and immigrants in detention to access legal information through group presentations, pro se workshops, and pro bono coordination so that detained respondents before the immigration court are aware of their rights and responsibilities, leading to reduced court times;
- Authorize the appointment of counsel in limited circumstances such as for unaccompanied children and individuals with mental impairments;
- Ensure refugees are not deported back to persecution while they prepare their petitions for federal court review;
- Clarify the “particular social group” basis and “nexus” requirements for asylum so that the asylum requests of vulnerable individuals, including women fleeing gender-based persecution, are adjudicated fairly and consistently;
- Protect refugees who are being mislabeled as “terrorists” from inappropriate exclusion by refining the definitions of “terrorist activity,” so that U.S. immigration laws better target actual terrorists;
- Authorize the bi-partisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to conduct a study regarding the conduct of the expedited removal process; and
- Protect victims of persecution and torture in maritime interdiction by directing the Department of Homeland Security to promulgate transparent, non-discriminatory, and written standards, such as requiring translators and other steps to protect individuals from being returned to persecution or torture.
“The Refugee Protection Act would help restore – and renew – not only our commitment to protect the persecuted but also our moral authority to lead the global community in addressing the plight of persecuted and displaced people around the world,” said Acer.
- Human Rights First has started an action campaign in support of the Refugee Protection Act. Take action here.