HIAS Calls on Homeland Security to Stop Relying on Secret Evidence to Deny Refugees

Posted on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 11:41 am

(New York, NY) -- HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, strongly supports the screening of refugees for security purposes, but calls upon the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reverse its trend of using secret evidence to delay, deny, and de-approve thousands of refugee applications worldwide. HIAS opposes DHS’s policy of withdrawing approval of hundreds of refugees and delaying thousands more without sharing the basis for the decisions.

The United States has a long and proud tradition of resettling refugees who fled persecution in their home countries. In FY2010, the U.S. resettled nearly 75,000 of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. Recent developments, however, have thrown the refugee program into disarray. Consequently, only 56,424 were resettled in the fiscal year that ended September 30.

HIAS has long advocated that the U.S. must put measures in place to effectively determine who may legitimately enter and remain in the U.S., as well as identify and prevent the entry of those who are dangerous and who pose a risk to our national security. But these safeguards should not be made at the expense of civil and human rights.

Earlier this year, DHS enacted new “pre-travel” security checks and, more recently, began withdrawing approvals of hundreds of previously approved refugees, leaving them stranded while fleeing dangerous situations in their home countries for the safety of the U.S. Additionally, the use of secret evidence against refugees was greatly expanded.

According to Mark Hetfield, HIAS Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs, “The United States has long been a leader in refugee protection. Today, however, DHS is sending a message to the world that countries can apply secret evidence to deny protection to large numbers of refugees. In so doing, the U.S. is emblazing a scarlet letter on individual refugees, signaling to other countries and the United Nations that that this middle-aged unmarried woman, or that young hairdresser, or this person in a wheelchair is – for reasons known only to the U.S. government – a “security risk.” When the government takes action against a refugee but refuses to tell the refugee why, what is really at risk is the refugee’s life – and American values, including our historic commitment to refugee protection.”

These new policies were enacted after DHS learned that two terrorists, Iraqis Waad Alwan and Mohanad Hammadi, now in jail awaiting trial, entered the U.S. as refugees in 2009. Upon discovering this security lapse, DHS brought the U.S. Refugee Program to an abrupt halt, cancelling nearly all refugee travel to the U.S. and effectively threatening the status of thousands of legitimate, approved refugees waiting overseas for their travel documents necessary for entry into the U.S. Many of them had risked their lives working with the U.S. Armed Forces overseas, or were Christians fleeing religious persecution and seeking to join family members in America.

This suspension caused the U.S. to resettle nearly 24,000 refugees less than the 80,000 authorized by Congress during FY2011, even though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is aware of 800,000 refugees worldwide in need of resettlement.