Human Rights First Urges UN and IACHR to Review U.S. Jailing of Asylum Seekers
Human Rights First has submitted briefing papers to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants outlining some of the ways in which U.S. detention of asylum seekers is arbitrary under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
As detailed in the paper, asylum seekers are held in prisons and immigration jails, the decision to detain them is not reviewed by an independent court, and the immigration agency’s release processes vary widely across the country. Some refugees are jailed in these facilities for months or years.
Human Rights First has urged the U.N. Working Group to visit the United States to review the situation, but the United States must first extend an official invitation to the Working Group. On January 31, 2007, Human Rights First and 50 other organizations wrote to the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to urge them to extend that invitation to the working group.
Human Rights First also urged the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to issue an advisory opinion on the arbitrary nature of U.S. detention policies for asylum seekers, and to visit detention centers where asylum seekers and immigrants are detained. In an October 24, 2007 submission, Human Rights First explained that U.S. detention of asylum seekers is inconsistent with Article 7 of the American Convention on Human Rights prohibiting arbitrary detention.
(01/31/07 – Updated)
Homeland Security Names Refugee Advisor – Major Reforms Still Not Made
On February 7, 2006, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it had named Igor V. Timofeyev as the new DHS Senior Advisor for Refugee and Asylum Policy.
The announcement came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the release of a major governmental report that had recommended critical policy reforms to ensure the fair and humane treatment of refugees who seek asylum in the United States.
A year after the release of the report, issued by the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Department of Homeland Security has still not implemented these reforms – which included changes to improve the treatment of asylum seekers in U.S. jails and detention facilities.
Human Rights First – and USCIRF – had recommended that DHS create a senior refugee position.
New DHS Secretary Has Opportunity to Improve U.S. Treatment of Refugees
Judge Michael Chertoff was sworn in as the new Department of Homeland Security Secretary on February 18, 2005. He now has the opportunity to implement recommendations included in the February 8 report issued by the U.S. government Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Commission’s report documents a number of serious failings in U.S. treatment of refugees who seek asylum in the U.S., including the current system of detention. More»
Bi-Partisan Religious Commission Releases Major Report on U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers
In February 2005, the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a comprehensive report that documents a number of serious failings in U.S. treatment of refugees who seek asylum in the United States. The 500-page report, authorized by Congress in 2003, provides unprecedented information about the challenges that refugees face in seeking asylum in the United States and recommends changes that the Department of Homeland Security must make to ensure the proper treatment of asylum seekers.
Human Rights First Report: “In Liberty’s Shadow”
Refugees who come to the United States seeking asylum are often detained by immigration authorities for months, and even years, in jail-like conditions – increasingly so since 9/11, as U.S. immigration authorities have become increasingly reluctant to release asylum seekers on parole even if they present no security threat,. “In Liberty’s Shadow,” released by Human Rights First in January 2004, explores the U.S. detention of asylum seekers in the era of Homeland Security.
Investigation Needed after Baptist Minister’s Death in U.S. Immigration Jail
Baptist Minister Joseph Dantica fled Haiti and asked for asylum Miami Airport on October 29, 2004. The Department of Homeland Security put the 81-year-old Reverend in an immigration jail in Miami. Several days later, Reverend Dantica died in DHS custody. More»
Groundbreaking Report from Medical Experts on the Health Consequences of Detention for Asylum Seekers
Refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. who are placed in jail-like detention centers suffer a myriad of physical and mental consequences, according to a report released on June 17, 2003, by Physicians for Human Rights and the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. The report, ?From Persecution to Prison: The Health Consequences of Detention for Asylum Seekers? presents the findings of the first systematic study of the physical and mental health of detained asylum seekers.
Detention of Asylum Seekers in the U.S.
The United States has long viewed itself as the land of the free and the protector of the persecuted, in the words of Emma Lazarus, the “Mother of Exiles.” In fact, U.S. concern for the plight of refugees during the Second World War was instrumental in the development of the modern international refugee protection system. Sadly however, “world-wide welcome” no longer glows from the Statue of Liberty’s torch upon the exiles who flee to our shores “yearning to breathe free.” Instead, handcuffs, shackles, and imprisonment too often await those who arrive seeking protection from persecution. The imprisonment of arriving asylum seekers, a practice that expanded dramatically in the 1980s, was reinforced by the restrictive provisions of changes to immigration law made in 1996. The “expedited removal” provisions of that law, which went into effect in April 1997, have resulted in lengthy detentions of asylum seekers who flee to the U.S. without valid travel documents. The situation has only worsened as the result of policies enacted since September 11, 2001.
As a result, those who arrive in this country seeking freedom and protection are routinely imprisoned for months, and sometimes for years, while their asylum cases are pending. Even when government guidelines call for an asylum seeker to be released, local officials often refuse, detaining them at substantial expense to U.S. taxpayers rather than releasing them to the care of legal U.S. family members or friends who are willing to bear the burden of housing and supporting them.