HIAS Welcomes "Gang of Eight" Immigration Reform Legislation, Celebrates Proposed Improvements to Refugee & Asylum Laws

Posted on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 13:31 pm

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, welcomes today's introduction of bipartisan legislation in the Senate to reform the U.S. immigration system. Mark Hetfield, HIAS’ President and CEO, said, “We are thrilled that this legislation was introduced and especially pleased that there are several humanitarian fixes for refugees and asylum seekers in this new legislation, which offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, modernizes the immigration system, strengthens our economy, protects families, treats American and immigrant workers fairly, and begins to address the broken refugee and asylum systems. While the bill may not be perfect, it is a comprehensive and common sense approach to immigration reform.”

Central to the organization’s focus on refugee protection, HIAS is grateful to the “Gang of 8” – Senators Schumer (D-NY), McCain (R-AZ), Durbin (D-IL), Graham (R-SC), Menendez (D-NJ), Rubio (R-FL), Bennet (D-CO), and Flake (R-AZ) – for including provisions such as repealing the one-year filing deadline that causes so much unnecessary hardship for asylum seekers, eliminating provisions that needlessly separate asylees and refugees from close family members, expediting the process for granting asylum to asylum seekers in expedited proceedings that clearly show they have been or will be persecuted, and permitting qualified stateless individuals to apply for green cards. Another important provision makes refugee adjudications abroad more fair and efficient.

The bill would also streamline the process for admitting certain high risk refugee groups, including Jews and other religious minorities fleeing Iran. The Senate bill would preserve Senator Lautenberg’s legacy of protecting persecuted religious minorities while creating new opportunities for other persecuted groups – with an emphasis on those seeking religious freedom – to receive protection. HIAS is particularly grateful to Senator Lautenberg for his years of unwavering commitment and leadership in protecting Jews and others who face persecution for their beliefs, and thanks the Senator for ensuring that protecting religious minorities from Iran and other countries that restrict religious freedom is a priority for immigration reform.

Other much needed proposed changes include increases in immigration court personnel and more training for judges and other staff, access to counsel for vulnerable populations to improve efficiency of courts, and “alternatives to detention” programs. The bill would also establish a pilot program to promote immigrant integration at state and local levels, which is in line with the recommendations put forth in HIAS’ recent report, Resettlement at Risk: Meeting Emerging Challenges to Refugee Resettlement in Local Communities.

Hetfield added, "As an organization deeply rooted in Jewish values, we support policies that fulfill the Torah's mandate to 'welcome the stranger.’ We are grateful for the hard work of these Senators and their staff and their acknowledgement that comprehensive immigration reform presents an opportunity to fix a broken system that adversely affects immigrants in the U.S., including refugees and asylum seekers. We look forward to working with legislators and immigrant communities to ensure that our immigration system is reformed in a way that honors our American and Jewish values.”