May 26, 2006
Asylum News 41
Senate Immigration Reform Bill Passes, But Contains Provisions That Put Refugees at Risk The Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611) by a vote of 62 to 36 on Thursday evening, setting the stage for a conference committee showdown with H.R. 4437, the controversial enforcement-heavy immigration bill passed by the House of Representatives last December. Unlike the House bill, S. 2611 would give many undocumented immigrants the right to work legally in this country, and would provide some with a path to citizenship. Both the House and Senate bills, however, contain provisions that would put refugees at risk of increased detention, summary deportations, and criminal prosecutions if they have to flee to safety on false documents. On the positive side, at least one problematic provision was removed from the Senate bill on Thursday: A bipartisan amendment, sponsored by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), passed by a vote of 52 to 45 just before final passage of S. 2611. The Feingold-Brownback Amendment preserved the ability of a federal court to prevent a refugee’s deportation back to his country of persecution while his asylum case is pending. To learn more about the provisions in both bills that would harm refugees, click here. Senate and House members will be negotiating their vast differences in the upcoming conference committee (which has not yet been scheduled). At that time, they will need to improve the many provisions that undermine this country’s historic commitment to refugees seeking asylum. CIS Ombudsman Recommends Dramatic Changes to Asylum Process The Ombudsman for DHS’s Citizenship and Immigration Services has recommended sweeping changes to the asylum process. Human Rights First and many other refugee assistance, faith-based, and other organizations have written to the Ombudsman and the Department of Homeland Security to express serious concerns about this flawed proposal. The Ombudsman’s proposal would deprive the vast majority of asylum seekers of a non-adversarial asylum interview – instead sending them to immigration court for removal hearings. The proposal would also require refugees to pay a fee in order to access protection, and transfer responsibility for the conduct of credible fear interviews from professional asylum officers, who are trained to identify and protect refugees, to DHS immigration and customs enforcement officers. These changes would have a devastating impact on refugees. If adopted, the Ombudsman’s proposals would put deserving refugees at greater risk of being denied protection, and would undermine this country’s commitment to provide refuge to those who flee persecution and seek our protection. To read this proposal and obtain contact information for the Ombudsman’s office, go to http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/editorial/editorial_0482.xml Some Burmese Karen Refugees to Be Resettled, But Material Support Bar Still Threatens Other Refugees and Asylum Seekers On May 3, 2006, the U.S. Department of State announced a limited waiver – of the provision barring those who have provided “material support” to armed groups – to allow for the resettlement of some ethnic Karen refugees from Burma. The waiver is limited to a subset of Karen refugees in one particular camp in Thailand and leaves other similarly situated refugees and asylum seekers unprotected. On May 23, the U.S. Senate failed to advance an amendment that would have corrected the overly broad provisions of the PATRIOT Act and the REAL ID Act that have barred refugees from resettlement and asylum when they have been forced to make payments to terrorists or have provided support to armed groups that are not otherwise viewed as terrorist organizations. A diverse group of refugee assistance, faith-based, and human rights organizations – as well as two law school clinics – have urged the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to exercise their waiver authority to protect deserving refugees. DHS and DOJ have failed to resolve this matter, leaving thousands of refugees and asylum seekers at risk. For background information on the material support issue, click here. For more information on the limited waiver announced by the State Department, click here.