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June 27, 2013

Senate Immigration Bill Reflects America’s Commitment to Refugees

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today praised passage of the United States Senate’s  immigration reform bill, S. 744, legislation that includes provisions to strengthen the U.S. asylum system. The organization praised members on both sides of the political aisle who supported this legislation and its improvement of important programs that are critical to preserving American leadership in refugee protection.

“Since its earliest days, our nation has served as a refuge for those with well-founded fears of persecution. The provisions in this landmark legislation that strengthen the asylum and immigration court systems not only improve the efficiency of the asylum system, they also reflect America’s values, commitment to fairness, and human rights,” said Human Rights First’s Sara Ibrahim. “We urge those Senators who will shepherd this bill through conference to protect these provisions and ensure that they become law.”

Human Rights First notes that S. 744 includes several important improvements to the asylum system in a subtitle named to honor the late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s commitment to refugees and asylum seekers. These provisions include:

  • Elimination of the unfair and wasteful asylum filing deadline bar that has led the United States to deny  asylum to refugees facing well-founded fears of persecution;
  • Better protections for to keep refugee families intact;
  • Improved efficiency  for asylum determinations; and
  • Measures to address the plight of stateless persons in the U.S.

The Senate immigration reform bill also contains provisions that will improve access to counsel for vulnerable populations, expanding the cost-efficient Legal Orientation Program that provide immigrants in detention with legal information presentations, reduce immigration court backlogs and increase the use of cost-saving and humane alternatives to detention.

“There is a long history of bipartisan support for the U.S. refugee and asylum systems. It was thrilling to see that cooperation come to life as this bill weaved its way through the Senate. We encourage the House of Representatives as well as House and Senate conferees to carry on that tradition as they hash out the final legislation,” observed Ibrahim.

Human Rights First praises the Senate Gang of Eight members, who included the asylum and refugee provisions as well as critical provisions to improve access to justice in their base bill. It also lauds the leadership of Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and all of the Gang of Eight members who championed these provisions in the bill through mark-up and floor consideration.

While it urged support for today’s bill, Human Rights First also expressed serious concern over the impact that some of the  bill’s  escalated  border enforcement provisions could have  on asylum seekers as well as on  U.S. and immigrant communities. Human Rights First urges the administration to implement effective  oversight,  accountability measures, and  rigorous training of border and immigration enforcement officers in immigration law including measures to  identify and address the  situation of vulnerable individuals.  Congress should continue to monitor the impact of these provisions and identify steps to address any human rights violations.

For more information or to speak with Ibrahim, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at BowserSoderB@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.