Advocating for Refugees in Immigration Reform Debate

Posted by HIAS – DC on Wed, Aug 14, 2013 at 17:49 pm


“Immigration reform” has become a buzzword in Washington—and all over the country. Broad coalitions of legislators, business leaders, students, law enforcement officials, faith leaders, farmworkers, and human rights activists have been urging for reforms to our outdated system. We recently saw a huge victory with passage of an immigration reform bill out of the U.S. Senate … but the fight is far from over and we are in it for the long haul.

As the Jewish nonprofit agency that protects refugees, HIAS has also long advocated for immigration and refugee laws that are humane, enhance national security, and reflect our Jewish values of welcoming the stranger. Along with Jewish and interfaith partners, as well as other immigration and refugee advocates, HIAS pushes for reforms to the current system that are guided by our national interest, balanced with fairness, and compassion.

So after the Presidential election in November 2012—when it became clear that fixing our country’s broken immigration system would be a priority for the Administration and for Congress—HIAS kicked its efforts into high gear.

Along with colleague organizations from Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), HIAS drafted a document of principles for comprehensive immigration reform and circulated this to government officials, urging that any discussion about reforms to our country’s broken immigration system also include crucial and overdue improvements to the Refugee Program. HIAS also coordinated a letter from the Jewish community, which was sent to President Obama and Congress on the eve of Passover, calling for an immigration overhaul.

For HIAS, the top legislative priority for immigration reform is to streamline the process for admitting certain high-risk refugee groups, including Jews and other religious minorities fleeing Iran. This crucial policy change 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.

Another main priority is elimination of the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications, which prevents many asylum seekers with a well-founded fear of persecution from receiving protection in the U.S. Other priorities include 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, permitting qualified stateless individuals to apply for green cards, and making refugee adjudications abroad more fair and efficient.

In April, the bipartisan “Gang of Eight”—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)—introduced the “Border Enforcement, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013”—S. 744. This bill was far from perfect, but it was certainly a step in the right direction, offering a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, seeking to modernize the immigration system, strengthening our economy, protecting families, treating American and immigrant workers fairly, and beginning to address the broken refugee and asylum systems.

The bill went through intense scrutiny with the Senate Judiciary Committee “markup” process, including consideration of several amendments relating to refugees, asylees, and other vulnerable populations. During this process, HIAS and its colleagues weighed in with legislators, urging them to oppose changes to the base bill that sought to strike, limit, or delay important provisions intended to improve our laws, increase efficiency, and protect vulnerable populations. After having passed through the Committee with only minor changes, the bill then went to the full Senate. After debate, consideration, and adoption of the controversial Corker-Hoeven Amendment, S. 744 passed the Senate in late June by a margin of 68-32. All Senate Democrats voting in favor of the bill, along with 2 Independents, and 12 of the 46 Republicans.

HIAS is now calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead by passing just and fair immigration reform, and to avoid harmful piecemeal legislation such as the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act,” H.R. 2278, which would worsen expansive laws targeting terrorism that instead have consequences for refugees and asylees. Please take a moment to join us by taking action, and learning more:

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