HIAS Decries Anti-Immigrant House Legislation

Posted on Mon, Dec 12, 2005 at 9:58 am

(New York City) – Refugee and immigration advocates are alarmed that the U.S. House of Representatives is expected this Wednesday to consider legislation that would make far-reaching changes to the United States immigration system, severely affecting both immigrants and asylum seekers.

“At a time when our country badly needs comprehensive reform of our immigration laws to address the problem of undocumented migration, the House appears to be heading towards a counterproductive “enforcement-only” approach to immigration and border security,” says Neil Greenbaum, president and CEO of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. “This legislation does nothing towards accomplishing comprehensive immigration reform, and includes numerous provisions that could undermine our nation’s commitment to welcoming newcomers.”

Some key provisions of the legislation are of particular concern:
• making the crime of unlawful presence an “aggravated felony,” resulting in the entire undocumented population being permanently barred from the U.S.;
• expanding the definition of alien smuggling so that nearly any individual assisting an undocumented person could be prosecuted;
• permitting state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration law; * increasing the mandatory detention of asylum seekers and other immigrants. Under this provision, an asylum seeker could be denied release or parole from immigration detention even though he or she satisfies the release criteria;
• depriving many asylum seekers and immigrants access to the federal courts, unless the individual can make “substantial showing” that the appeal is likely to be granted; and
• overturning the Supreme Court’s decision limiting indefinite detention of immigrants.

“While our immigration system clearly is broken, the ‘enforcement-only’ approaches taken during the past 20 years have not worked to gain control of our immigration system, and ensure that limited security and enforcement resources are targeted on the most grave threats from criminals, smugglers and terrorists,” says Gideon Aronoff, vice president for government relations and public policy at HIAS. “This legislation will only succeed in driving immigrants further underground and denying due process protection to asylum seekers and other immigrants.”

Based on Jewish history and the Jewish community’s tradition of commitment to welcoming the stranger and rescuing refugees, HIAS strongly supports the United States’ tradition of providing safe haven to individuals fleeing persecution and opportunities for immigrants to make new lives in this country, explains Greenbaum. “At the same time, during a time of significant danger from terrorism, our country must courageously face difficult issues such as undocumented migration, and devise serious and effective solutions to contribute to our national security,” he says.

To achieve both national security and humanitarian objectives, HIAS has advocated strongly for comprehensive reform of the immigration system. Officials at HIAS are particularly grateful for the framework set forth in the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, introduced by Representatives Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Flake (R-Ariz.), and Gutierrez (D-Ill.), and Senators McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kennedy (D-Mass.), as well as the involvement of President Bush and other members of Congress who also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is in America’s interests.

“Sadly, the hasty and misguided approach that is moving quickly ahead in the House will not serve the needs of our country,” says Aronoff. “It is both anti-immigrant, and anti-American. This approach should be rejected, and Congress should unite to develop a bipartisan, workable and comprehensive reform plan for our immigration system.”