For Immediate Release: March 16, 2010
Washington, DC Human Rights First today unveiled a series of key policy reform recommendations designed to renew America’s commitment to the protection of refugees. These recommended reforms, released during the organization’s symposium marking the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, call on the Obama Administration and Congress to implement immediate changes that would prevent the unnecessary and prolonged detention of asylum seekers by providing prompt court review of detention, end the practice of barring refugees with a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of an arbitrary asylum filing deadline, and ensure the protection of refugees at risk of imminent harm by creating a fast-track resettlement process.
“A lot has happened in the 30 years since Congress passed the landmark Refugee Act including escalating detention and a barrage of new barriers that limit access to asylum for those who seek this country’s protection from persecution. The U.S. resettlement system also needs to be more responsive to the evolving needs of today’s refugees,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “It’s time for U.S. policymakers to reform policies and provisions of law that are inconsistent with our nation’s commitments and values.”
When Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States created the legal status of asylum and a formal framework for resettling refugees from around the world. The Refugee Act also established a standard for uniform and principled refugee eligibility, eliminating the ideological biases that had dominated prior laws, and incorporating the definition of a “refugee” from the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. However, over the years, the United States has faltered in its commitment to those who seek protection. During the last fifteen years, a barrage of new laws, policies and legal interpretations have undermined the institution of asylum in the United States and led the United States to deny asylum or other protection to victims of persecution. On the other hand, the U.S. resettlement system has struggled to adapt to the needs of today’s refugees, at times failing to move sufficiently swift to identify and resettle vulnerable refugees from overseas, including those at imminent risk.
Human Rights First’s recommendations address these critical problems and provide a roadmap of concrete reforms in five key areas that the United States can implement this year to renew its commitment to refugee protection. Among Human Rights First’s recommendations are the following:
- Provide Prompt Court Review of Detention: The Departments of Homeland Security and Justice should revise regulatory language and/or Congress should enact legislation to provide arriving asylum seekers and other immigrants in detention with the chance to have their custody reviewed in a hearing before an Immigration Judge.
- Eliminate the Asylum Filing Deadline: Congress should eliminate the one-year filing deadline that bars refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from asylum.
- Develop a Fast-Track Process for Refugees at Imminent Risk: The White House, working with the Departments of State and Homeland Security, should develop a formal global system to fast-track refugee status determinations and resettlement processing for refugees facing imminent harm in countries of first asylum.
- Protect Refugees from Inappropriate Exclusion: Congress and the White House should revise the U.S. laws, policies and legal positions that are excluding refugees from asylum protection under “terrorism” and other bars in ways that are inconsistent with U.S. commitments under the Refugee Convention and Protocol.
- Accentuate Refugee Protection Within the Department of Homeland Security: The Department of Homeland Security should create a Refugee Protection Office and the DHS Office of Policy should elevate in seniority the position dedicated to refugee and asylum matters. These structural changes would serve to increase coordination across DHS components and ensure implementation of directives and guidance affecting refugees and asylum seekers.
“Over the years, thousands of refugees have been affected by flawed policies that are limiting this country’s ability to protect the persecuted. The recommendations we have outlined represent real solutions that can be advanced this year to strengthen America’s commitment to protecting victims of religious, political, ethnic and other forms of persecution,” concluded Acer.