HIAS Commends Senate for Protecting Asylum Seekers But Disappointed that Family Amendments Were Defeated

Posted on Thu, Jun 07, 2007 at 10:41 am

(New York City)– HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, commends the U.S. Senate for passing Senator Joseph Lieberman’s (I-Conn.) amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill that affords protections to asylum seekers. Last night, the Senate voted to pass the amendment, titled the “Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act,” by unanimous consent, meaning no senator had objections to the amendment.

“By unanimously passing this amendment, the Senate has sent a strong signal reaffirming this nation’s obligation to treat asylum seekers with dignity, fairness, and respect as they seek refuge in our country,” says Mark Hetfield, senior vice president for policy and programs at HIAS. “We especially appreciate Senator Lieberman’s dedication and commitment to ensuring the protection and fair treatment of asylum seekers. We look forward to working with the House of Representatives to ensure that they pass similar legislation.” The amendment implements the key recommendations of the congressionally established U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which two years ago issued a report raising serious concerns about the protections offered asylum seekers arriving in this country.

Though pleased with the outcome of the vote on Senator Lieberman’s amendment, HIAS is extremely disappointed that the Senate did not pass amendments by Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) that would have reaffirmed our commitment to, and the value of, keeping families together. “We had hoped that the Senate would take this opportunity to improve the Senate bill and do what’s right for immigrant and American families, as well as what’s right for this country” said Gideon Aronoff, president and CEO of HIAS. “For us these amendments represented the best chance for making this bill fair and humane. As the Senate continues to consider additional amendments before a vote on final passage, we urge them to restore the commitment to family unification.”

The pro-family amendments that failed last night included provisions that would have: ensured that family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who had played by the rules aren’t cut out of line; ensured that U.S. permanent residents are not unnecessarily separated from their spouses and children, and; sunset the new point system in five years to ensure that this new untested and un-reviewed system is serving the interests of American families and communities.

“The American public deserves a solution to our broken immigration system, one that reflects its values and needs,” said Aronoff. “We are hopeful, and intend to work hard to ensure, that the House will take a different approach than the Senate and reaffirm our fundamental values of family unity, fairness, and dignity and pass comprehensive immigration reform that is workable and humane.”