Today Senate and House champions of refugees introduced the “Refugee Protection Act of 2011. More than thirty years ago, Congress passed the Refugee Act, a landmark law intended to codify the United States’ obligations under the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention. Over the years, the country has fallen short of fulfilling those obligations. Advocates Congress to act swiftly and in a bipartisan manner to pass this bill which is so vital to refugees and asylees–and to our nation’s identity.
Among other fixes, the Refugee Protection Act would eliminate the requirement that asylum seekers file their claims within one year of arriving in the United States. The rule, which has only a few, narrow exceptions, has led to untold numbers of worthy refugees being denied asylum as well as administrative waste.
The new Refugee Protection Act of 2011 includes provisions that would:
* Eliminate the one-year asylum filing deadline that bars refugees with well-founded fears of persecution from asylum;
* Limit unnecessary and prolonged detention of asylum seekers by creating a secure alternatives to detention program, with individualized case management and additional safeguards, and require regulations establishing detention conditions that provide a “safe and humane“ environment;
* Allow asylum seekers and immigrants in detention to access 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;
* Authorize the appointment of counsel in limited circumstances such as for unaccompanied children and individuals with mental impairments;
* Ensure refugees are not deported back to persecution while they prepare their petitions for federal court review;
* Clarify the “particular social group” basis and “nexus” requirements for asylum so that the asylum requests of vulnerable individuals, including women fleeing gender-based persecution, are adjudicated fairly and consistently;
* Protect refugees who are being mislabeled as “terrorists” from inappropriate exclusion by refining the definitions of “terrorist activity,” so that U.S. immigration laws better target actual terrorists;
* Authorize the bi-partisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to conduct a study regarding the conduct of the expedited removal process; and
* Protect 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.