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On 30th Anniversary of Refugee Act, Congress Has Opportunity to Renew U.S. Commitment to Human Rights

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center applauds the introduction of the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Carl Levin (D-MI), which provides important human rights protections for refugees and asylum seekers in the United States.

The bill’s introduction occurs the same week as the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, a landmark piece of legislation that made United States a beacon of hope for men, women, and children fleeing persecution in foreign lands. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) also is a cosponsor.

“Unfortunately, since the Refugee Act was introduced, we have seen the legal protections for refugees in the United States significantly weakened,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. “Refugees and asylum seekers today face a broken system of laws that frequently results in needless delay, unnecessary detention, and deportation to countries where they face persecution, torture, or death. The Refugee Protection Act of 2010 would go a long way toward restoring the United States as a human rights leader and a welcoming nation for those fleeing danger.”

The Refugee Protection Act of 2010 includes several important human rights protections, including vital reforms to the immigration detention system which holds at least 30,000 asylum seekers every year.

The legislation also includes regulations which allow asylum seekers who pass an initial “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer to be considered for release. These guidelines were issued by DHS in January 2010, but Congress must pass legislation in order for them to be fully enforceable. Tomorrow, the National Immigrant Justice Center and 30 nongovernmental organizations, think tanks, and academics will file petitions for rulemaking to DHS and the Department of Justice requesting similar regulations.

Summary of the Refugee Protection Act of 2010

Some of the major human rights provisions included in the bill are:

  • Protections for detained refugees and asylum seekers
    • Codification of minimum detention standards, to ensure asylum seekers and other detainees have adequate access to attorneys, medical care, religious practice, and family visits.
    • Codification of current Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines which allow asylum seekers who pass an initial “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer to be considered for release. These guidelines were issued by DHS in January 2010, but Congress must pass legislation in order for them to be fully enforceable.
    • Creation of a nationwide “alternatives to detention” program to reduce the unnecessary detention of people who pose no threat to our communities.
  • Additional critical protections for asylum seekers
    • Elimination of the one-year application deadline which has prevented many legitimate asylum seekers from receiving protection because they do not know about the availability of asylum until it is too late.
    • Access to court-appointed counsel for asylum seekers when necessary to ensure a fair day in court. Under current law, non-citizens in immigration or asylum proceedings do not have access to court-appointed counsel.
    • Authorization for refugees and asylees to apply for a “green card” as soon as their refugee or asylee status is granted. This provision, which would eliminate the current one-year waiting period, would accelerate integration into American communities for refugees and asylees.

Read NIJC's statement in support of the Refugee Protection Act submitted to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Action Alert: Tell Senators to Support the Refugee Protection Act of 2010
The National Immigrant Justice Center launched an email campaign last week to encourage senators to support the Refugee Protection Act of 2010. To send a message to senators, visit http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5967/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=2216

 

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit www.immigrantjustice.org