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February 11, 2013

Union Strongest Through Commitment to Equality, Human Rights

Washington, DC – As President Obama prepares to deliver the State of the Union address, Human Rights First urges him to recommit to the promise of equality and fundamental rights he articulated in his Second Inaugural as a principle that has guided the nation “through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” As the United States government turns its attention to immigration reform, the group urges President Obama to remember those who have come to our shores fleeing persecution because of who they are or what they believe.

Human Rights First recently praised the president’s proposed comprehensive immigration reform measures, a package that contains steps to protect refugees, strengthen due process, and fix the nation’s flawed approach to immigration detention.

“Our union is strongest when America shines as a beacon,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “President Obama’s should give a full throated endorsement of immigration reform proposals that will strengthen our nation and reflect our history as a nation of immigrants and a global leader in the protection of refugees.”

Human Rights First notes that the president should use his State of the Union address to lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform that includes measure to:

  • Eliminate the wasteful and counter-productive asylum filing deadline that is barring refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from asylum and diverting overstretched adjudication resources.
  • Reduce unnecessary immigration detention costs and implement lasting reforms through cost-effective alternatives to detention, immigration court review of detention decisions, and standards and conditions in line with the American Bar Association’s proposed civil immigration detention standards.
  • Require and support a fair and efficient adjudication process, providing for Legal Orientation Programs and counsel where justice requires, including for children, persons with mental disabilities, and other vulnerable immigrants in immigration detention.
  • Protect refugees from inappropriate exclusion and free up administrative resources by adjusting overly broad immigration law definitions that have mislabeled refugees as supporters of “terrorism.”

In December, Human Rights First released a series of blueprints that outline practical steps lawmakers and the administration can take to address some of the most pressing human rights issues in the world today, including How to Repair the U.S. Asylum and Refugee Resettlement Systems and How to Repair the U.S. Immigration Detention System.

In addition to immigration reform, the organization asks that the president to make clear his administration’s continued support for the protection of LGBTI persons around the globe and the implementation of national security strategies based on the nation’s core values.

Another of Human Rights First’s blueprint, How to Protect LGBTI Persons around the World from Violence, provides a pathway for the administration to implement its 2011 policy framework for combatting serious rights violations against LGBTI persons around the globe. In many parts of the world, LGBTI people continue to suffer discrimination, abuse and violence. To effectively address this concern, the United States should continue to partner with civil society – including human rights defenders – and strengthen the role of civil society to conduct advocacy on the protection of LGBTI people. President Obama’s State of the Union speech should reassure Americans that the protection of LGBTI people and this civil society strategy, one that was championed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will remain priorities for his administration in his second term.

Last, as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close and the administration enters a new phase in advancing national security, the administration should take steps to align its policies with American values and ideals. Human Rights First notes that important steps toward this goal include closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a priority President Obama reiterated during his last campaign, as well as providing more transparency about how the United States conducts its targeted killing programs abroad. In addition, Human Rights First urges the administration to tell Congress that it will cooperate with the Senate intelligence committee to publicly release, with as few redactions as possible, the committee’s recently adopted report on the CIA torture programthat occurred in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. President Obama’s speech should provide clarity about how the administration plans to tackle each of these challenges.

For more information about this release or to speak with a member of Human Rights First’s team, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder atbowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.