Proposed House Bill Would Undermine Access to Asylum and Protection
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today expressed serious concern over the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2014, a bill sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) that would severely undermine access to asylum and protection in the United States.
“The bill introduced yesterday would put children at risk of return to trafficking, death, and persecution in their home countries. It would turn away asylum seekers and leave others in immigration detention for months. This proposal is completely inconsistent with American ideals and would erode the United States’ legacy as a global leader in protecting refugees and victims of trafficking,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.
The bill seeks to make it harder for those fleeing persecution and torture to file for asylum in the United States, a process already fraught with obstacles. The bill appears to eliminate the statutory basis for release on parole for detained asylum seekers, including children, which would leave asylum seekers in jails and facilities with conditions similar to jails despite the existence of more cost-effective and humane alternative measures that result in compliance and appearance at hearings. The bill would also eviscerate the limited procedural protections available to unaccompanied children in the immigration system. It would overturn provisions that protect children from return to traffickers and would subject them to expedited removal proceedings entirely unsuited to their age, making it difficult for them to access the asylum and immigration process. It would also ban any government-funded counsel, including for unaccompanied children, some of whom are toddlers or even younger.
Among many changes to law, the bill would:
- Raise the expedited removal screening standard for those seeking this country’s protection at the border to an unduly high standard. The bill would require that an asylum seeker – in order to even be allowed to apply for asylum – not only show a “significant possibility of establishing eligibility for asylum,” but also prove that it is more likely than not that his or her statements are true. This standard is inappropriate for what is intended to be a screening, and the conditions under which these interviews are conducted – often over the phone, with traumatized applicants speaking to government officials they cannot see, communicating through interpreters of variable quality – would lead to the deportation of many asylum seekers with legitimate claims to protection.
- Appear to prevent arriving asylum seekers who have passed the credible fear screening process from being paroled from immigration detention, instead leaving them in jails and facilities with conditions that resemble jails for months or longer, even though there are more fiscally-prudent and humane alternatives that have been proven effective. Although other provisions of the bill assume the release on parole of some applicants, the changes to the parole statute itself are so significant that they would not only impact asylum seekers but would prevent the United States from quickly bringing prominent political dissidents or human rights advocates at risk abroad to safety here.
- Overturn provisions in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) that protect children from return to traffickers or persecution by putting all unaccompanied children into expedited removal proceedings. The bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has documented substantial flaws in the implementation of expedited removal and other studies have detailed deficiencies in the screenings of children at the border, all of which leave vulnerable individuals – adults and children – at risk of return to persecution and harm.
- Drastically narrow the definition of an “unaccompanied child,” and allow unaccompanied children to be held in the custody of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) for as long as a month rather than being transferred to the more appropriate care of the Department of Health and Human Service.
- Subject unaccompanied children to the arbitrary one-year asylum filing deadline bar. The filing deadline has denied protection to those fleeing persecution or left them in limbo, and has created inefficiencies in the immigration system when bona fide refugees are unnecessarily referred to immigration court proceedings. To apply this deadline to children with no guardian or counsel subjects the most vulnerable of the vulnerable to an already arbitrary bar from protection.
- Prohibit any government funding of counsel, including for children or those with mental disabilities, who would be left to represent themselves in complicated and legally complex immigration court proceedings.
- Allow asylum applicants, including unaccompanied children, to be bounced to third countries in the absence of any agreement between the United States and the countries in question for the reception of asylum seekers.
Human Rights First urges Congress to focus on real solutions. In addition to supporting efforts to address the human rights conditions in Central America prompting many to flee their homes and to target smugglers who are preying on these children, Congress should:
- Properly resource the Asylum Office screening processes and the Immigration Courts to reduce backlogs and vulnerability to abuse;
- Support efforts to expand nationwide use of cost-effective and humane alternatives to detention for border cases in place of immigration detention, for those who need additional supervision to support appearance;
- Address misinformation of persons arriving at the border by supporting prompt access to legal information and counsel; and
- Not weaken protection safeguards.
For more information or to speak with Acer, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.
Blueprint: How to Protect Refugees and Prevent Abuse at the Border
Fact Sheet: Key Statistics and Findings on Asylum Protection Requests at the U.S.–Mexico Border
Fact Sheet: How to Manage the Increase in Families at the Border.
Letter: Coalition Letter Urging President Obama to Protect the Children at the Border
Fact Sheet: Recommendations for an Emergency Supplemental Fund to Protect Families and Asylum Seekers at the U.S.-Mexico Border