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December 31, 2010

Support the Refugee Protection Act of 2011

Why is the Refugee Protection Act of 2011 important?

  • The United States has a proud history of providing refuge to victims of persecution. This tradition is a core component of this country’s commitment to freedom and respect for human dignity. The Refugee Protection Act of 2011 strengthens this commitment by repairing some of the most severe problems in the U.S. refugee and asylum systems.
  • Refugees are people who are forced from their homes due to persecution based on political, religious, ethnic, racial, and other reasons. In recent years refugees have come from Burma, China, Colombia, Liberia, Iran, Iraq, Rwanda, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and other places where people have been persecuted for who they are or what they believe. Many were arrested, jailed, beaten, raped, tortured, threatened with death, or otherwise persecuted because of their political or religious beliefs, or their race, ethnicity, or other fundamental aspects of their identity.

Why is the Refugee Protection Act of 2011 necessary?

  • When Congress passed the bi‐partisan Refugee Act of 1980, the United States established the legal framework for providing refugees access to protection in the United States through the asylum and refugee resettlement systems. Over the years, new laws, policies, and legal interpretations have undermined the institution of asylum in the United States and led the United States to deny asylum or other protection to victims of persecution. The U.S. resettlement system has also faced challenges, particularly as it has struggled to adapt to the needs of today’s refugees.
  • The United States is a leader in the protection of refugees and viewed by many other countries as a model. When the United States falters on its commitment, refugees worldwide suffer. The Refugee Protection Act of 2011 fixes some of the areas in which U.S. laws and policies are not living up to the standards the United States has set for itself and, by extension, the bar it sets for the rest of the world.

What are the major obstacles for refugees seeking asylum in the United States?

  • A filing deadline and other barriers that have barred genuine refugees with well‐founded fears of persecution from asylum;
  • The rapid escalation of immigration detention and the failure to provide crucial safeguards to prevent unnecessary and prolonged detention;
  • Limited access to legal counsel and basic legal information for asylum seekers and immigrants in detention, leading applicants to appear before the court unaware of their options for relief, contributing to inefficiencies in the immigration courts;
  • Expansive definitions in the immigration laws that mislabel genuine refugees who do not pose a danger and have not committed acts of wrongdoing as “terrorists”;
  • Lack of clarity on the definition of “particular social group” or the requirements for establishing “nexus,” preventing vulnerable groups, especially women fleeing gender‐based persecution, from having their cases adjudicated fairly and consistently; and
  • Flawed maritime interdiction policies that lack effective, fair, transparent, and non‐discriminatory standards to ensure the United States is not intercepting refugees at sea and returning them to places where they face persecution.

What does the Refugee Protection Act accomplish?

The Refugee Protection Act of 2011 resolves some of the most severe problems in the U.S. refugee and asylum systems. Among its many significant provisions, the Refugee Protection Act:

  • Eliminates the one‐year asylum filing deadline that bars refugees with well‐founded fears of persecution from asylum;
  • Limits the unnecessary and prolonged detention of asylum seekers by creating a secure alternatives to detention program, with individualized case management and additional safeguards, and requires regulations establishing detention conditions that provide a “safe and humane“ environment;
  • Expands programs for providing asylum seekers and immigrants in detention with legal information through group presentations, pro se workshops, and pro bono coordination so that detained respondents before the immigration court are aware of their rights and responsibilities, leading to reduced court times, and authorizes the appointment of counsel in limited circumstances such as for unaccompanied children and individuals with mental impairments;
  • Protects genuine refugees from inappropriate exclusion by revising overly broad immigration   definitions that are mislabeling refugees as supporters of “terrorist organizations,” including by defining the term “material support” to mean support that is significant and of a kind directly relevant to  terrorist activity, and by clarifying that those who committed certain acts (such as military‐type training, solicitation, or other non‐violent actions) under duress may not be deemed inadmissible if they pose no threat to the United States;
  • Preserves a refugee’s ability to appeal his/her asylum case by preventing him/her from being deported during the 30‐day period s/he has to file a petition for review to a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals;
  • Authorizes the bi‐partisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to conduct a study regarding the conduct of the expedited removal process;
  • Clarifies the meaning of the “particular social group” category and “nexus” requirement of the refugee definition by providing that the definition of a “particular social group” is guided by the “fundamental and immutable characteristics” standard without additional requirements, and that “nexus” can be established by either direct or circumstantial evidence; and
  • Protects victims of persecution and torture in maritime interdiction by directing the Department of Homeland Security to promulgate transparent, non‐discriminatory, and written standards, such as requiring translators and other steps to protect individuals from being returned to persecution or torture.

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