HIAS Strongly Supports the Refugee Protection Act

Posted on Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 17:48 pm

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, strongly supports the Refugee Protection Act of 2010, introduced today by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Carl Levin (D-MI). The legislation marks the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, which established procedures for the U.S. to live up to its obligations to refugees and asylum seekers under the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

According to Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO of HIAS, “HIAS believes that all refugees overseas and those who reach our shores should have access to a meaningful, humane, and professional refugee and asylum system. Any reluctance on the part of the United States to offer safe haven is inconsistent with international law and sends a dangerous message to countries around the world that are likely to follow our lead and further diminish refugee protection.

“It is also important to remember that refugee protection does not end on the day asylum or refugee status is approved. Once here, the U.S. should make sure that refugees and asylees get the help they need to start their new lives in the United States. The Refugee Protection Act would go a long way towards ensuring that refugee families are reunited quickly and that refugees and asylees are able to integrate quickly into U.S. society.”

Affording refugees the opportunity to seek safe haven in the United States has been a fundamental component of the American humanitarian tradition and international human rights principles, and is a reflection of the Jewish tradition of “redemption of the captive.” HIAS long has supported asylum as a key element of refugee protection, advocated for just and compassionate asylum and refugee policies, and urged the government to devote sufficient resources to successfully fulfill the crucial undertaking of protecting the persecuted. HIAS’ commitment to these principles can be seen in the hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from around the world who have been – and continue to be – resettled, advised, assisted, and represented by HIAS.

While the provisions of the Refugee Act have resulted in the protection of countless refugees and asylum seekers during the 30 years it has been in effect, in recent years, protections for asylum seekers have eroded. Laws have been enacted containing provisions that threaten the rights and safety of asylum seekers, including a harsh expedited removal system, arbitrary deadlines for filing asylum claims, and other limitations on asylum seekers’ ability to obtain protection in the U.S. Even after asylum seekers have proven their credible fear of persecution, many are detained, and less restrictive alternatives to detention rarely are provided to asylum seekers who are found not to be threats to society. The Refugee Protection Act proposes thoughtful and effective solutions to these problems and will ensure that fairness is restored to the asylum system. It would bring asylum and refugee processing up to date, informed by the country’s 30 years of experience with these programs. In the 1990s, sweeping procedural reforms addressed the huge backlogs in asylum applications.

The Refugee Protection Act takes these changes into account, eliminating the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications that was established as a response to the long delays that now are a thing of the past.

In addition, laws and policy changes since 2001 have tightened the categorical disqualification from asylum and refugee protection of those who would pose a danger to the United States and have greatly enhanced security reviews in the asylum and refugee admissions process. Unfortunately, legitimate policies designed to bar the admission of terrorists are resulting in the denial of protection to bona fide refugees and asylum seekers who are unfairly labeled as “terrorists” when many are in fact victims of terror.