Welcome to the new and improved version of Human Rights First's asylum newsletter. Our goal is to help keep you informed of major developments that affect those who seek asylum in the United States. In the last few years, round after round of changes – changes in laws, policy, and practice – have made it harder for those who flee persecution to receive asylum in this country. We hope that, by alerting you to new developments and by working together, we can help to preserve asylum and better assist those who flee to this country in search of refuge.
Homeland Security Names Refugee Advisor – But Major Reforms Still Not Made
On February 7, 2006, the Department of Homeland Security announced the appointment of Igor V. Timofeyev as the Senior Advisor for Refugee and Asylum Policy in the new DHS Policy Directorate.
The announcement came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the release of a major report by the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The Commission had concluded that asylum seekers are detained in jail-like facilities that are inappropriate and create a serious risk of psychological harm – and found serious problems in the implementation of the expedited removal process. It recommended critical policy reforms to ensure the fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers – reforms that DHS has still not implemented. In fact, DHS has expanded the flawed expedited removal process.
Human Rights First had recommended that DHS create a senior refugee position in a January 2004 report on the U.S. detention of asylum seekers. In its February 2005 report, USCIRF also urged DHS to create a senior refugee office.
Read HRF statement on one-year anniversary of USCIRF report and appointment of refugee advisor
Learn more about U.S. detention of asylum seekers and necessary reforms
Refugees at Risk – the "Material Support" Crisis
Asylum seekers and refugees who have fled from some of the most dangerous and abusive places in the world are finding themselves denied asylum – or potentially barred from resettlement in the United States – as a result of the government's overly broad interpretation of the concept of "material support" to terrorism. Those at risk include Colombians who were forced to pay money to terrorist groups and Burmese Christians who supported local religious and ethnic organizations that are associated with armed groups opposed to the repressive Burmese military regime. The situation is a threat to the U.S. refugee resettlement program and leaves thousands of refugees at risk.
Human Rights First is working with refugee resettlement and advocacy organizations to help address this problem. To learn more about this issue, you can read the helpful background materials prepared by Refugee Council USA, with input from HRF and other groups. Human Rights First has been representing, and assisting lawyers who are representing, asylum seekers whose cases are affected by this issue. The Department of Homeland Security is currently examining the potential of agreeing to "waivers" in appropriate cases, but while this issue continues to await a resolution, the fates of thousands of refugees remain uncertain.
Read Refugee Council USA's paper on material support
Click here for a backgrounder on material support
Justice Department Investigation
On January 9, 2006, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced that the Justice Department is launching a "comprehensive review" of the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). This announcement came after a front-page article in the New York Times
detailed criticism by federal court judges of the immigration courts and the BIA, as well as concerns about the impact of changes made at the BIA by former Attorney General Ashcroft in 2002.
Human Rights First has urged the Justice Department to reverse the 2002 changes at the BIA – changes that have led to the "rubberstamping" of many immigration court decisions at the Board level. In a January 2006 letter, Human Rights First also urged the Justice Department to implement recommendations made by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom with respect to the immigration courts and the BIA – and to seek input, during the course of its review, from the legal organizations, pro bono projects, refugee assistance organizations, law school clinics, and others who represent and assist asylum seekers and immigrants in the immigration process.
Read HRF's January 2006 letter
In his January 9 notices relating to "comprehensive review," the Attorney General specifically instructed that all individuals who appear before the immigration court be treated with courtesy and respect, and that the BIA review all cases before it proficiently.
Read the Attorney General's memorandum to immigration judges
Read the Attorney General's memorandum to the BIA.