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Home / Press Release / World Refugee Day Tribute to Celebrate Congressman Payne Legacy
June 19, 2012

World Refugee Day Tribute to Celebrate Congressman Payne Legacy

Washington, DC – As World Refugee Day approaches tomorrow, Human Rights First urges the administration and Congress to make key reforms to the U.S. asylum and immigration systems to better protect refugees who flee political, religious, and other persecution. The group notes that such action would celebrate the legacy of the late Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey, who prioritized refugee protection throughout his career and whose commitment the organization will honor tonight during a Capitol Hill reception. Human Rights First notes that World Refugee Day is an opportunity to honor the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children around the globe who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence. It is also an opportunity to call on states – including the United States – to recommit to reforms to ensure that the world’s refugees are protected. “The United States has long served as a safe haven for men, women, and children who have fled political, religious, and other persecution,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Unfortunately, U.S. policy does not always live up to American ideals. To honor the best traditions of the United States, Congress and the administration should renew their commitment to protecting the persecuted by taking key steps to reform the immigration detention system, ensure access to asylum, and provide emergency protection to refugees around the world who face imminent risks of harm. Specifically, Human Rights First urges the administration and Congress to:

  • Recommit to reform the immigration detention system by ending the use of jail and jail-like facilities to detain asylum seekers and other immigrants, and changing laws, policies and procedures so that asylum seekers and migrants are only detained after individualized assessments, with court review and after considering release options and less costly alternatives to detention first. Read our 2011 report, “Jails and Jumpsuits: Transforming the U.S. Immigration Detention System – A Two-Year Review.”
  • Establish a formal, effective, timely and transparent expedited resettlement procedure for refugees facing imminent danger in countries of first asylum, by continuing to reduce the timeframes required for security background checks, improve the coordination of the multiple steps in resettlement processing by dedicating specific staff to focus on expedited resettlement as their priority, and providing prompt pre-screening and USCIS interviews. Read recommendations to the United States based on our 2012 report, “The Road to Safety: Strengthening Protection for LGBTI Refugees in Uganda and Kenya.”

Read Human Rights First’s proposed pledges for the U.S. government on the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and our recommendations for reform on the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act. “Congressman Payne understood the importance of America’s commitment to protecting refugees,” noted Acer. “He was a tireless advocate on behalf of those who were persecuted and those affected by violence and war, and he helped to shine a spotlight on the plight of displaced persons and refugees in Africa and around the world.” Tonight, in celebration of Congressman Payne’s legacy – as detailed in a recent letter sent to his family from Human Rights First – and World Refugee Day, Human Rights First will co-sponsor a reception in Washington, DC, from 5 to 7pm in the Rayburn House Office Building (room B-354). It will feature remarks from Anne C. Richards, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; William D. Payne, former New Jersey Assemblyman; and Abdalmageed Haroun, Darfuri human rights activist and former Human Rights First asylum client. Other speakers will include Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5), Congressman Keith Ellison (MN-5), Congressman Sam Farr (CA-17), Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-16), and Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-3). For more information about tonight’s event or the reforms recommended by Human Rights First, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.

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