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Home / Press Release / Human Rights First: Congress Should Act Quickly to Legislate Protections for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
January 20, 2021

Human Rights First: Congress Should Act Quickly to Legislate Protections for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

WASHINGTON -- Human Rights First welcomed a legislative proposal from President Biden that would begin to repair the damage done to the U.S. immigration and refugee systems and called on Congress to work to strengthen the bill to ensure that protections for refugees and asylum seekers cannot be stripped by future administrations.

“We are pleased to see a proposal on day one from the new administration for legislative reforms that begin to repair the damage done in the last four years and fix persistent injustices,” said Eleanor Acer, director of refugee protection at Human Rights First. “We welcome the proposal’s recognition of the importance of addressing the factors pushing people to flee their home countries and building regional resettlement initiatives. We also welcome the provision that would end the one-year filing deadline. That harmful bar has denied asylum to refugees, wasted adjudication resources, added to backlogs, separated families and put lives in more danger by preventing people adjudicated to be refugees from petitioning to bring their children and spouse to safety in the United States. An end to this deadline is long overdue.”

“We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that this bill both repairs the damage wrought by the last administration and ensures that protections for people seeking safety in U.S. law and international treaties cannot be easily stripped away by demagogues appealing to xenophobia and racism.”

Human Rights First is pleased to see counsel for unaccompanied children and particularly vulnerable individuals, expansion of legal orientation programs, and the NO BAN Act are contained in the president’s proposal. The NO BAN Act ensures that restrictions on entry into the United States are tailored to meet a compelling national security interest, preserving the authority of presidents to deny entry in a manner consistent with past practice. The law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion when determining eligibility for entry under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Human Rights First urges Congress to re-introduce and pass the Refugee Protection Act which includes provisions that would:

  • Ensure particularly vulnerable groups of asylum seekers have a full and fair opportunity to seek protection in the United States including those fleeing gender-based persecution;
  • Give the asylum office jurisdiction for all initial asylum applications, as well as any application for withholding of removal or protection under the Convention against Torture;
  • Provide safeguards, like individual custody determinations, that protect asylum seekers from improper detention;
  • Make stateless people eligible to apply for conditional lawful status in the United States;
  • Prevent imposition of third-country transit bans those separate refugee families and deny refugees asylum simply for transiting another country and
  • Improve processing times for refugee and Special Immigrant Visa applications from Iraqi and Afghan partners who assisted U.S. troops in combat zones.

In addition to welcoming the Biden administration’s commitment to legislative reform, Human Rights First looks forward, in the coming days, to the administration’s announcements of administrative actions to undo Trump administration policies that have blocked, denied asylum to and punished refugees seeking U.S. asylum.

“President Biden has made clear his commitment to ensuring that the United States is again a beacon to people who have fled persecution,” said Acer. “The Biden administration should swiftly undo the Trump administration’s harmful anti-asylum policies and ensure U.S. officials uphold U.S. refugee laws and treaties.”

Human Rights First has outlined key policy changes that are needed to protect refugees and asylum seekers in its policy blueprint, “Upholding Refugee Protection and Asylum at Home.”