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December 11, 2003

Asylum News 21

Court TV Film, Inspired by Human Rights First Case, Shines a Light on U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers

Screenings around the Country in December and January Film Airs January 19, 24, 27 and Feb. 22 Take Action Now! Urge US Department of Homeland Security to Improve Detention Procedures for Asylum Seekers “Chasing Freedom,” an original Court TV Film to be aired in January, tells the story of a young Afghan woman (played by Layla Alizada) who is persecuted by the Taliban for running a school for young girls and the pro bono attorney (played by Juliette Lewis) who reluctantly takes on her asylum case after the woman is detained when she arrives at a U.S. airport in search of refuge. The film was inspired by a real asylum case handled by a team of dedicated pro bono attorneys for Human Rights First, and Human Rights First provided expertise on asylum and detention issues to Court TV while the screenplay was being written. It is a sobering depiction of the nearly insurmountable obstacles that asylum seekers face when they arrive in the U.S. The young refugee woman portrayed in the film, like so many asylum seekers, arrived in the U.S. without proper documents and was detained by immigration authorities upon her arrival at a U.S. airport. In the last two years, at least 15,300 asylum seekers have been subject to detention at U.S. airports and borders. They are transported to jails and detention facilities often in handcuffs, and often without any clear understanding of why they are being detained. In detention, once they pass a screening interview, asylum seekers are legally eligible to be paroled if they satisfy the INS, now DHS (Department of Homeland Security), parole criteria for asylum seekers – criteria which include community ties, no risk to the community, and that identity can be established. But, in practice, even asylum seekers who meet these criteria continue to be detained. Immigration officials too often ignore or selectively apply the parole criteria, which exist only in guideline form rather than formal regulations. And, as is dramatically represented in the film Chasing Freedom, when an asylum seeker’s parole request is denied by DHS officials, they have no meaningful recourse – they cannot appeal the decision to an independent authority, or even an immigration judge. TAKE ACTION Human Rights First is recommending that the Department of Homeland Security make some concrete changes to improve the fairness of detention procedures so that they are consistent with the U.S. tradition of protecting the persecuted. We urge that the Department:
  • Create a new high-level refugee protection position in DHS Secretary Tom Ridge’s Office;
  • Give asylum seekers the chance to appeal parole denials to immigration judges; and
  • Put the existing parole guidelines into formal regulations that must be applied by DHS.
For further background on these issues, read several reports issued by Human Rights First. Refugee Women at Risk Human Rights First Report: The Department of Homeland Security, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers Save the Date - Mark Your Calendars! Non-profit organizations around the country will be presenting screenings of “Chasing Freedom” during December and January and participating in the Chasing Freedom Campaign, a national effort aimed at raising public awareness about asylum and detention. The effort is led by Active Voice, with support from the Ford Foundation, and will feature resources that help recruit pro-bono activity around asylum cases. For more information about this effort please contact projects@activevoice.net. Human Rights First, in cooperation with Court TV, Active Voice, and other non-profit organizations will be presenting several screenings, accompanied by discussions. We will circulate additional information about these events in upcoming weeks -- but for now please save these dates:
  • Monday, January 12 at 6pm for a screening in Washington D.C. at the Visions Cinema sponsored by Court TV, Human Rights First and other groups.
  • Thursday, January 15 at 6pm for a screening in New York City at the New School, Tishman Auditorium sponsored by Human Rights First , American Friends Service Committee, New School International Center for Migration, Ethnicity, and Citizenship (ICMEC), Riverside Church & Sojourners Ministry.
Additional screenings around the country will be held:
  • Thursday, December 18 for a screening in Seattle, Washington at Northwest Asian Theatre sponsored by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, in conjunction with Amnesty International, the Hate Free Zone & the Association of Immigration Lawyers.
  • Thursday, December 18 for a screening in Houston, Texas at the University of Houston Law Center sponsored by University of Houston Law Center, Catholic Charities & Legal Aid Clinic.
  • Friday, January 2 for a screening in Spokane, Washington sponsored by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, in conjunction with Amnesty International, the Hate Free Zone & the Association of Immigration Lawyers.
  • Monday, January 5 for a screening in York, Pennsylvania sponsored by the Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights at the Community Level (CIRCLE).
  • Thursday, January 8 for a screening in Miami, Florida at the University of Miami sponsored by the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.
  • Tuesday, January 13 for a screening in San Antonio, Texas sponsored by SAIRRC, Human Rights First for Civil Rights under Law of Texas & St. Mary’s University School of Law
  • Thursday, January 15 for a screening in San Francisco, California at Hastings Law School sponsored by Amnesty International, Active Voice, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at Hastings Law School & Human Rights First for Civil Rights
  • Thursday, January 15 for a screening in Denver, Colorado at the University of Denver, Cable Center sponsored by The Cable Center, Rocky Mountain Survivors Center & Court TV.
  • Friday, January 16 for a screening in Jersey City, New Jersey sponsored by First Friends Interfaith Refugee Action Team
  • Friday, January 16 for a screening at the University of Washington sponsored by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, in conjunction with Amnesty International, the Hate Free Zone & the Association of Immigration Lawyers.
Other screenings will be planned for:
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota sponsored by the Human Rights Center of University of Minnesota
  • Los Angeles, California sponsored by UCLA International Institute, UCLA Law School International Law Society & other groups
  • Chicago, Illinois sponsored by Midwest Immigrant Human Rights Center
“Chasing Freedom” will air on television on Court TV on these dates:
  • January 19 at 9pm (premiere)
  • January 24 at 9pm
  • January 27 at 10 pm
  • February 22 at 10pm
Take Action! Urge the U.S. To Improve Detention Policies for Asylum Seekers Please note that as of January 2004, Human Rights First will be the new name of Human Rights First. For 25 years, Human Rights First has been at the forefront of the human rights movement. Both in the United States and abroad, our work has made a practical difference, protecting people’s lives. Our work combines legal analysis and representation with in-depth human rights research, reporting and public advocacy on important policy issues. Though our name is changing, our mission will not. Our new name will help us expand our public advocacy and reach out to people from all walks of life who want to make this organization their own. More information on Asylum in the U.S. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues. If you are not subscribed, and would like to continue receiving Asylum Protection News, sign up here