U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers in the Era of Homeland Security
The United States has a long tradition of providing refuge to victims of religious, political and other forms of persecution. This tradition has been eroded, beginning with harsh federal legislation in 1996 and accelerating in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Asylum seekers have been caught up in a web of new laws, regulations and policies advanced in the name of national security that have transformed the immigration system – and left refugees more vulnerable than ever. The lack of basic safeguards in the U.S. asylum detention system has meant that victims of religious and political persecution, rape and torture are unnecessarily detained for months and sometimes years in the United States.
Or by section
2.U.S. Law on Detaining Asylum Seekers: An Overview
3.An Inherently Unfair Process
4.The New “Security” Environment
5.Detention and its Impact
6.Alternatives to Detention
The principal authors of this report were Eleanor Acer and Archana Pyati. Additional writing and/or editing was contributed by Erin Corcoran, Anwen Hughes, Michael McClintock, and Elisa Massimino.
We wish to thank the many refugees and asylum seekers, pro bono attorneys, legal representation organizations, and other individuals and groups who provided information included in this report.
Human Rights First gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the Altman/Kazickas Foundation, Tim Collins, District of Columbia Bar Foundation, Edward P. Evans, FJC – A Foundation of Donor Advised Funds, Fribourg Family Foundation, the Fund for New Citizens of the New York Community Trust, The Fund for New Jersey, Jane Hartley and Ralph Schlosstein, The Kaplen Foundation, Helen and Martin Kimmel, Jan Krukowski, The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, The New York Bar Foundation, The Picower Foundation, The George W. Rentschler Foundation, Stanley and Sydney Shuman, Harold Snyder, George Soros, and Rick and Mara Wallace. We also wish to thank Equal Justice Works and the law firm of Schulte Roth & Zabel for sponsoring Ms. Pyati’s fellowship at Human Rights First.
Dedication: Arthur C. Helton
This report is dedicated to Arthur C. Helton, who died in the bombing of the U.N.’s Baghdad headquarters in August 2003. Arthur dedicated much of his life’s work to advocating that refugees in the U.S. and abroad be treated in accord with international human rights standards. He was a widely respected expert on refugee and migration issues.
Arthur led Human Rights First’ refugee program from 1982 to 1994. In that capacity he initiated discussions with U.S. immigration officials concerning the need to establish a fair process for the release from detention of asylum seekers who meet specific criteria for parole. After a successful pilot project, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Gene McNary issued a memorandum in April 1992 detailing the criteria under which an asylum seeker could be paroled from detention. In 1990, at least 13 years ago, Arthur began urging the INS to put its asylum parole criteria into formal regulations – a recommendation that is central to this report.
Arthur built the pro bono legal representation program at Human Rights First, which recruits attorneys at law firms and trains them to represent asylum applicants. He developed extensive training materials and devoted thousands of hours to mentoring and advising hundreds of young lawyers. Over the years, this program has served thousands of refugees and has become a national model.