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February 21, 2017

Kelly, Tillerson Urged to Uphold U.S. Obligations to Protect Refugees

Washington, D.C.— Human Rights First today urged Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to ensure that any new executive order on immigration and refugees mitigates the harm to national security posed by the January 25 and January 27 executive orders, and that any actions to implement the orders uphold U.S. treaty commitments and international legal obligations. The call came in a letter from Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino, outlining recommendations for ensuring that the United States does not deny protection to refugees who do not present a danger or turn away asylum seekers at its borders.

“Our nation can—and must—safeguard its security without breaking faith with its most cherished ideals,” wrote Massimino. “[These executive orders] are unnecessary and cruel. Moreover, they set a dangerous example for the rest of the world, encouraging other countries—including those hosting the overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees—to shirk their responsibilities to provide refuge to those fleeing persecution, violence, and terror. Such actions undermine international law and international cooperation through resettlement, critical tools for supporting global stability and advancing American national security interests.

The letter urges Secretaries Kelly and Tillerson in their implementation of new and existing executive orders on immigration and refugees to ensure that:

  • The United States does not discriminate against refugees or others seeking to enter the United States simply because of their nationality or religion;
  • The United States does not rely on persecuting governments and failed states to vet refugees, asylum seekers, and others seeking to leave those countries;
  • Vetting procedures are not used as a pretext to limit the entry of Muslims or deny protection to refugees who do not present a danger;
  • The United States does not turn away asylum seekers at its borders;
  • The United States does not hold refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in detention arbitrarily without court assessment of the need for their continued detention; and
  • The United States continues to use the “TRIG” exemptions implemented under the two prior administrations to allow for case-by-case adjudications. 

"The United States has the capacity to manage its borders and safeguard its security without sacrificing its global leadership or subverting international law,” added Massimino.

For more information or to speak with Massimino contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.