The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Brenda Bowser Soder,,O -202/370-3323, C - 301/906-4460

Reform Recommendations Target Lengthy Court Delays, Arbitrary Filing Deadline, Refugee Resettlement System


Human Rights First today unveiled a series of key policy reform
recommendations designed to renew America's commitment to the protection
of refugees. These recommended reforms, released during the
organization's symposium marking the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act
of 1980, call on the Obama Administration and Congress to implement
immediate changes that would prevent the unnecessary and prolonged
detention of asylum seekers by providing prompt court review of
detention, end the practice of barring refugees with a well-founded fear
of persecution on the basis of an arbitrary asylum filing deadline, and
ensure the protection of refugees at risk of imminent harm by creating a
fast-track resettlement process.

"A lot has happened in the 30 years since Congress passed the
landmark Refugee Act - including escalating detention and a barrage of
new barriers that limit access to asylum for those who seek this
country's protection from persecution. The U.S. resettlement system also
needs to be more responsive to the evolving needs of today's refugees,"
said Human Rights First's Eleanor Acer. "It's time for U.S.
policymakers to reform policies and provisions of law that are
inconsistent with our nation's commitments and values."

When Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States
created the legal status of asylum and a formal framework for resettling
refugees from around the world. The Refugee Act also established a
standard for uniform and principled refugee eligibility, eliminating the
ideological biases that had dominated prior laws, and incorporating the
definition of a "refugee" from the 1951 Convention Relating to the
Status of Refugees. However, over the years, the United States has
faltered in its commitment to those who seek protection. During the last
fifteen years, a barrage of new laws, policies and legal
interpretations have undermined the institution of asylum in the United
States and led the United States to deny asylum or other protection to
victims of persecution. On the other hand, the U.S. resettlement system
has struggled to adapt to the needs of today's refugees, at times
failing to move sufficiently swift to identify and resettle vulnerable
refugees from overseas, including those at imminent risk.

Human Rights First's recommendations address these critical problems
and provide a roadmap of concrete reforms in five key areas that the
United States can implement this year to renew its commitment to refugee
protection. Among Human Rights First's recommendations are the

  • Provide Prompt Court Review of Detention: The Departments of
    Homeland Security and Justice should revise regulatory language and/or
    Congress should enact legislation to provide arriving asylum seekers and
    other immigrants in detention with the chance to have their custody
    reviewed in a hearing before an Immigration Judge.
  • Eliminate the Asylum Filing Deadline: Congress should eliminate
    the one-year filing deadline that bars refugees with well-founded fears
    of persecution from asylum.
  • Develop a Fast-Track Process for Refugees at Imminent Risk: The
    White House, working with the Departments of State and Homeland
    Security, should develop a formal global system to fast-track refugee
    status determinations and resettlement processing for refugees facing
    imminent harm in countries of first asylum.
  • Protect Refugees from Inappropriate Exclusion: Congress and the
    White House should revise the U.S. laws, policies and legal positions
    that are excluding refugees from asylum protection under "terrorism" and
    other bars in ways that are inconsistent with U.S. commitments under
    the Refugee Convention and Protocol.
  • Accentuate Refugee Protection Within the Department of Homeland
    Security: The Department of Homeland Security should create a Refugee
    Protection Office and the DHS Office of Policy should elevate in
    seniority the position dedicated to refugee and asylum matters. These
    structural changes would serve to increase coordination across DHS
    components and ensure implementation of directives and guidance
    affecting refugees and asylum seekers.

"Over the years, thousands of refugees have been affected by flawed
policies that are limiting this country's ability to protect the
persecuted. The recommendations
we have outlined
represent real solutions that can be advanced this
year to strengthen America's commitment to protecting victims of
religious, political, ethnic and other forms of persecution," concluded

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.