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Home / Press Release / Immigration Reform Bill to Contain Key Protections for Asylum Seekers, Refugees
May 21, 2013

Immigration Reform Bill to Contain Key Protections for Asylum Seekers, Refugees

Washington, D.C. –   Human Rights First today said the immigration reform bill expected to head to the Senate floor after it is voted out of the full Senate Judiciary Committee later this week will contain key language to strengthen the U.S. refugee protection and asylum systems. During yesterday’s mark-up of the legislation’s asylum, refugee, detention and due process provisions (in Title III of S. 744), a bipartisan group of Senators voted to keep in key provisions to eliminate the wasteful and unfair asylum filing deadline that has clogged up the immigration court system with assessments technicalities.

“The committee’s bipartisan support for eliminating the one-year filing deadline puts us one step closer to ending this inefficient practice that excludes refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from asylum,” said Human Rights First’s Sara Jane Ibrahim. “Senators Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin, and Chuck Schumer are to be commended for their invaluable leadership at the mark-up and for their persistent efforts to ensure that those who need America’s protection most are not left on the cutting room floor as immigration reform legislation takes shape.”

Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Durbin (D-IL) were also among a bipartisan group of Senators who worked to strike Senator Chuck Grassley’s (D-IA) amendment to extend the existing deadline from 1 to 2 years.  The committee rejected a second Grassley amendment to delay elimination of the filing deadline provision until one year after the completion of an intelligence review of the recent Boston Marathon attack. Speaking in opposition to the delay, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair and Judiciary Committee member Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said that the report on the Boston attack was “unrelated” to the proposed changes to the asylum system and that the Senate should not punish refugees based on the case.

Human Rights First notes that Monday’s mark-up also yielded significant progress toward reforming the U.S. immigration detention system. The committee adopted an amendment proposed by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to restrict the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention. Many of S. 744’s important provisions on due process, access to legal counsel, and smarter use of alternatives to detention and custody review also remain in the bill after yesterday’s markup, after a number of amendments threatening these provisions were ultimately not offered or defeated.

Prior to markup of the bill, Human Rights First joined faith-based and other groups of Refugee Council USA in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members opposing harmful amendments to asylum and refugee protections in the bill. More than 200 national, state and local faith-based, refugee-serving, humanitarian, and human rights organizations signed a letter in support of the refugee and asylum provisions in the bill. Human Rights First also launched a mobile site www.EndtheDeadline.org to bring policymakers, staff, NGOs and other partners comprehensive real-time updates on the asylum filing deadline provisions in the immigration reform bill.

“The leadership exhibited in yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to keep protections for refugees, including elimination of the asylum filing deadline in the bill, and maintaining important due process and immigration detention reforms,  keeps our nation on track with America’s historic commitment to refugee protection and values of human rights and fairness. For the past 14 years, many refugees have been denied asylum in this country due to technical barriers that waste limited government resources. We welcome the bipartisan decision by the Senate Judiciary Committee to reaffirm America’s commitment to the protection of persecuted refugees by voting to keep these needed changes in the bill. Not only will these common sense measures improve the efficiency of the immigration system, but they are also consistent with American values, commitment to fairness, and human rights,” Ibrahim concluded.

To speak with Ibrahim or to learn more about these provisions in the immigration reform bill, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder atbowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.