RCUSA S.744 Amendments Letter

Senate Judiciary Committee Members:

The Honorable Senator Patrick Leahy
The Honorable Senator Dianne Feinstein,
The Honorable Senator Chuck Schumer,
The Honorable Senator Dick Durbin
The Honorable Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
The Honorable Senator Amy Klobuchar
The Honorable Senator Al Franken
The Honorable Senator Christopher Coons
The Honorable Senator Richard Blumenthal
The Honorable Senator Mazie Hirono
The Honorable Senator Chuck Grassley
The Honorable Senator Orrin Hatch
The Honorable Senator Jeff Sessions
The Honorable Senator Lindsey Graham
The Honorable Senator John Cornyn
The Honorable Senator Michael Lee
The Honorable Senator Ted Cruz
The Honorable Senator Jeff Flake

May 9, 2013

Dear Senators:

On behalf of the twenty-five member organizations of Refugee Council USA (RCUSA), a coalition devoted to refugee protection and assistance, I write to urge you to oppose the amendments listed below that would undermine needed improvements to the protection of refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless people. These proposed amendments to S. 744 seek to strike, limit or delay provisions that intended to improve our laws, increase efficiency, and protect refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people, while maintaining the integrity and security of the programs.

We urge you to oppose:

  • Grassley 25, ARM13549 -To strike section 3403, Clarification on Designation of Certain Refugees. This provision would increase protection to vulnerable groups (in particular persecuted religious minorities) and save resources by in allowing the President, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, to designate certain refugees for resettlement for humanitarian reasons or when resettlement is in the national interest. Extends the Lautenberg Amendment for the processing of certain designated refugees, including religious minorities from Iran. Refugees admitted under this provision would continue to undergo rigorous security background checks and will count against the annual refugee admission numbers, a process which is already done in consultation with Congress.
  • Grassley 26, ARM13550 - To strike Section 3405, Stateless Persons in the United States. This provision would provide to a small number of stateless persons (men, women, and children have no nationality) a path to legal status in the United States.
  • Grassley 27, ARM13551 – To strike Section 3401, Time limits and efficient adjudication of genuine asylum claims and Section 3404, Asylum determination efficiency. These two provisions would eliminate unnecessary and costly barriers to protection: by eliminating the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications (sec. 3401), which causes so much unnecessary hardship and would also allow expert, trained asylum officers jurisdiction over an asylum claim after credible fear is shown (sec. 3404), rather than initially referring asylum seekers to a judge for lengthy and costly court proceedings. Importantly, these provisions do not alter any standards or safeguards in the asylum system. All asylum seekers would continue to undergo rigorous security background checks and show that they are admissible to the United States.
  • Grassley 52, EAS13415 - To delay asylum and student visa changes (sections 3401, 3404, and 4401(a)) until a coordinated review detailing the intelligence and immigration failures of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack is submitted to Congress by the Inspector Generals. Delaying enactment of these provisions would only delay their ability to increase efficiency in our refugee and asylum processes and strengthen protection to those fleeing persecution. None of these provisions undermine, limit or circumvent security screenings or eligibility for admission currently in place for those admitted as refugees and asylees.
  • Graham 1, DAV13389 - No Asylee Return. Terminates asylee and refugee status for any alien who returns to the country from which they sought protection from persecution. Current law already provides for termination of asylum status under 8 U.S.C. §1158(c)(2); INA §208(c)(2), which includes “re-availment” of protection of the country of nationality or last habitual residence. Any provision requiring automatic termination of refugee or asylees status for any return to the country of nationality or last habitual residence is contrary to the international obligations of the U.S. and is unnecessary under existing U.S. law. Refugees and asylees have many legitimate reasons for returning to their countries of origin, particularly years later once they have attained permanent resident status in the United States and the conditions that caused them to flee have changed. These can include visiting an ill relative, attending a funeral, or assisting with that country’s reconstruction efforts, such as the recent example of the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan. These circumstances must be considered individually rather than requiring an automatic termination, as this could lead to violations of U.S. and international law and result in returning an individual to persecution.

 

We urge you to oppose these amendments that would stop or delay needed reforms to improve the lives of asylum seekers, refugees, and U.S. communities that welcome. We hope you continue to work to ensure that comprehensive immigration reform upholds the United States’ proud history and tradition of protecting and welcoming victims of persecution and torture.

Sincerely,
Erol Kekic
Chair, Refugee Council USA