HIAS Celebrates Passage of Senate Immigration Reform Legislation

Posted on Thu, Jun 27, 2013 at 17:05 pm

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, celebrates the passage of the bipartisan legislation in the Senate to reform the U.S. immigration system. The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” S. 744, passed by a margin of 68-32. Mark Hetfield, HIAS’ President and CEO, was “thrilled to see this bill pass the Senate and especially pleased that it passed with several humanitarian fixes for refugees and asylum seekers.” He said that “while the bill may not be perfect, it is a comprehensive and common sense approach to immigration reform, and we are working hard to ensure that the House will follow suit in forwarding a comprehensive immigration reform package.”

HIAS is particularly 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 pushing for reforms 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 who 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.

If enacted into law, this 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. Hetfield continued, “We are particularly moved to learn that the refugee/asylum subtitle of the bill (Subtitle D) was amended to be named the ‘Frank R. Lautenberg Asylum and Refugee Reform Act.’ This commemorates the late Senator Lautenberg’s decades of unwavering commitment and leadership in protecting Jews and others who face persecution for their beliefs.”

Other much needed 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 also establishes 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 very concerned about the piecemeal immigration legislation being considered in the House of Representatives, 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. We call on the House to follow the Senate’s lead in ensuring that our immigration system is reformed in a way that honors our American and Jewish values.”