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July 12, 2013

Napolitano Should Address Refugee Terrorism Bars Before Leaving Office

Washington, D.C. – Today, as Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announces her resignation, Human Rights First urges her to complete several outstanding steps to protect refugees before she departs in September, and urges her successor to move ahead with meaningful immigration detention reforms.  The organization also calls on President Obama to make these issues a priority when deciding who to nominate as the next head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“Looking forward, the next Secretary of Homeland Security has the opportunity to transform the flawed U.S. approach to immigration detention by turning to more cost-effective alternatives to detention instead of relying on the overuse of jails and jail-like facilities that are inappropriate for asylum seekers and other civil immigration detainees,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.

During her tenure at DHS, Secretary Napolitano committed to overhaul the U.S. immigration detention system, stressing that the “paradigm was wrong” and confirming that not all immigration detainees should be held in jail-like conditions “which not only may be unnecessary but more expensive than necessary.”  In an April 2013 appearance before the House Appropriations Committee, Secretary Napolitano confirmed that immigration authorities should manage their use of detention guided by detention priorities, public safety threats, rather than an “arbitrary” or “artificial” bed number, noting that the President’s budget proposal had asked for “flexibility” in the use of funds, which would facilitate the use of alternatives to detention.

“We commend Secretary Napolitano for her leadership in recognizing that individuals should not be deprived of their liberty based on an arbitrary detention bed quota,” added Acer.

Human Rights First also urges Secretary Napolitano to take steps, before her departure in September, to address the long-standing injustice of thousands of refugees who have been barred from receiving protection in the United States.  As detailed in two reports issued by Human Rights First, overbroad definitions and interpretations of the terms “terrorist organization” and “terrorist activity” in U.S. immigration law have ensnared people with no real connection to terrorism. Consequently, thousands of refugees seeking safety – including those with family already in the United States – have been barred from entering or receiving protection in the United States, and many refugees and asylees already granted protection and living in this country have been barred from obtaining green cards and reuniting with family members. The United States had pledged to reduce significantly the number of cases on hold through the issuance of additional exemptions.  In the next few months Secretary should take a number of steps including:

  • Allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers to reexamine and provide relief to individuals – on an individual, case-by-case basis – who had voluntary associations with so-called “Tier III” groups. These groups are not designated as terrorist groups anywhere and in many cases are long defunct or are groups the U.S. government sympathizes with and even supports.
  • Sign additional exemptions to allow the prompt adjudication of cases of persons who do not bear responsibility for serious human rights abuses or crimes and pose no threat to the security of the United States. Progress in this area is particularly urgent with respect to refugees who are applying for asylum or resettlement now.

For more information, see Human Rights First’s factsheet “Immigration Detention: How Can the Government Cut Costs?” For more information about the immigration detention system, read Human Rights First’s recently released How to Repair the U.S. Immigration Detention Systemand How to Repair the U.S. Asylum and Refugee Resettlement Systems.       

To speak with Acer, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at BowserSoderB@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.