Of Note: Humane Treatment of Asylum Seekers in Detention: Our Challenge at Chanukah

Posted by Gideon Aronoff on Tue, Dec 04, 2007 at 12:19 pm

As we prepare to light the first candle of our HIAS Menorah, I wanted to share a recent story from AP on the controversial new policy guidance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on parole for asylum seekers.

Homeland Security has recommended an additional set of criteria for its review process when deciding whether to continue to jail applicants for asylum. Earlier changes in asylum procedures already mandated that everyone seeking asylum and arriving in the U.S. without valid documents be jailed and not paroled until they could prove their identity, credible fear of persecution in their homeland, ties to a community in America, and lack of security threat. The new policies, however, mean that before gaining parole, these vulnerable men and women will also need to show they are a juvenile, pregnant, or seriously ill; a witness in a judicial or legislative proceeding; or a person whose detention is “not in the public interest.”

Remember that these applicants for asylum already have proven their credible fear of persecution. These men and women are not criminals; rather, they are victims of violence, rape, torture, imprisonment, and other forms of persecution based on their faith, race, nationality, political views, or social group. They have turned to the United States for protection and freedom – yet have found themselves locked up for years in detention centers or even county jails, alongside common criminals.

Judaism is committed to protecting the vulnerable and weak of society, and our Jewish community has long supported individuals seeking religious liberty and human rights. As the American Jewish community’s agency on migration, HIAS has steadily advocated that the existing extremely tough parole criteria should be applied in a compassionate and consistent manner. We must ensure that Homeland Security will not indiscriminately detain victims of persecution, who otherwise would be paroled to pursue their legitimate asylum cases with the assistance of their families, friends, communities, and advocates like HIAS who stand with them.

Looking to the future, HIAS will continue to fight against this new policy, one that expands the suffering of victims of persecution and oppression. We will work at every level to honor the United States’ historic legacy as a refuge for refugees around the world. At Chanukah in particular, HIAS remembers the miracles of the past and stands as a partner in creating new miracles of liberation, freedom, and justice for refugees and other vulnerable migrants at home and around the world.

May we, and the people we serve, all go from strength to strength in this holiday season.

Chag Sameach.

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