HIAS Strongly Supports Reintroduction of Refugee Protection Act

Posted on Wed, Jun 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm

(New York, NY) – HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, strongly supports the Refugee Protection Act of 2011, introduced today by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and co-sponsored by Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Companion legislation will be introduced today in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). The legislation, originally introduced last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1980 Refugee Act, now marks the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which defined what it meant to be a refugee and established procedures and protocols for determining who fit the refugee definition.

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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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, as laws have been enacted containing provisions that threaten their rights and safety.

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 U.S., 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.