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July 21, 2006

Asylum News 43

CIS Ombudsman's Asylum Proposal Rejected

IMGDr. Emilio Gonzalez, the Director of the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced in late June that he had rejected the controversial proposal of the USCIS Ombudsman to make sweeping changes to the asylum process. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) also disagreed with the proposal. ICE expressed its concern that the proposal would hinder fraud detection efforts. Human Rights First, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and many other experts and faith-based and refugee assistance organizations also filed comments opposing the proposal. The proposal would have deprived 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 have required refugees to pay a fee in order to access protection, and transferred 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. In light of the rejection, it is unlikely that the Ombudsman's office will pursue these proposals further within DHS. A copy of the recommendations was included in the Ombudsman's annual report to Congress, although a copy of the USCIS response was not included in the report. The annual report to Congress can be found at http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/editorial/editorial_0890.xml To read the CIS response to the proposal (in two parts), please click here and here. Detention of Asylum Seekers: Ongoing Concerns "It was a torturous experience," said former Human Rights First client Pastor Edward Neepaye to an AP reporter, about the months he was jailed in an immigration detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, while his claim for asylum was pending. Both the House and the Senate immigration bills would increase detention for asylum seekers and other immigrants. While Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) support improvements that would ensure that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement adopt key reforms recommended last year by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Department of Homeland Security has indicated that it opposes this reform, stating that it would deprive DHS of "operational flexibility in locating, staffing and operating detention facilities." To read the AP piece about immigration detention, please click here. UNHCR Survey on Alternatives to Detention The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued a comprehensive survey of alternatives to detention of asylum seekers and refugees that have been tested and are used in various countries around the world, including in the United States. To read the full report, please click here. Six North Korean Refugees Resettled The U.S. State Department confirmed in May that six North Korean refugees were resettled in the United States. The North Korean Human Rights Act, which was signed by President Bush in 2004, seeks to address the serious human rights situation in North Korea and promote durable solutions for refugees. Section 303 of the Act provides that the Secretary of State shall undertake to facilitate the submission of applications by citizens of North Korea seeking protection as refugees. For more information from the U.S. State Department, click here.