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AILA Applauds Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Introduction of The Refugee Protection Act of 2010

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 10031510 (posted Mar. 15, 2010)"

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, March 15, 2010
CONTACT:
George Tzamaras
202-507-7649
gtzamaras@aila.org

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) applauds Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for introducing "The Refugee Protection Act of 2010" to ensure refugees and asylum seekers are protected by the United States. The bill's introduction today comes on the thirtieth anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, a landmark piece of legislation that sought to fulfill the United States' obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Currently, that law falls short of meeting those obligations and this bill will help correct those disparities by protecting refugees and asylum seekers from torture while preserving the United States as a land of hope for those who flee persecution.

"This is a significant piece of legislation that comes at the right time given the global unrest that troubles our world," said Bernie Wolfsdorf, President of AILA. "America has stood as a beacon of hope for so many and this bill gives hope to those who are in most need - refugees and asylum seekers. The bill would grant much needed protections to those fleeing persecution and brings about much needed reform in the adjudication system. I am hopeful Congress will act swiftly and in a bipartisan manner to fix the immigration process for refugees and asylees."

In addition to refugees and asylum seekers, the Refugee Protection Act would protect immigrants who are detained and placed in deportation proceedings. "Everyone who represents immigrants has seen painfully unfair cases where a client is held in a jail cell for weeks-often in substandard conditions--then deported even though the immigration judge made a mistake or did not apply the law correctly," said Wolfsdorf. "Especially now with hundreds of thousands of cases being processed by courts each year, mistakes do happen, and our system must have a way to ensure the mistakes get caught."

It would make the following changes, among others, to current law:

Increased Protections for Asylum Seekers:
  • Eliminate the requirement that asylum applicants file their claim within one year of arrival.
  • Protect particularly vulnerable asylum seekers by ensuring they can pursue a claim even where their persecution was not socially visible.
  • Ensure fair process by requiring an immigration judge to give notice and an opportunity to respond when the judge requires corroborating evidence of the asylum claim.
  • Give an applicant the opportunity to explain and clarify inconsistencies in a claim.
  • Enable minors who seek asylum to have an initial interview with an asylum officer in a non-adversarial setting.
  • Allow the Attorney General to appoint counsel where fair resolution or effective adjudication of the proceedings would be served by appointment of counsel.
Reforms to the Expedited Removal Process:
  • Require the referral of asylum seekers to an asylum officer for a credible fear interview, and, if credible fear is found, for an asylum interview.
  • Authorize the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to conduct a new study on the effects of expedited removal authority on asylum seekers.
Parole of Asylum Seekers:
  • Codify the current DHS policy that asylum seekers be considered for release ("parole") and requires DHS to issue regulations establishing criteria for parole.
  • Establish a nationwide, secure "alternatives to detention" program.
  • Require changes in the immigration detention system to ensure asylum seekers and others have access to counsel, medical care, religious practice, and visits from family.
Terrorism Bar to Admissibility:
  • Modify definitions in the statute to ensure that innocent asylum seekers and refugees are not unfairly denied protection as a result of the material support and terrorism bars in the law, while ensuring that those with legitimate ties to terrorist activity will continue to be denied entry to the United States.
Protection for Refugees and Asylees:
  • Eliminate the one-year waiting period for refugees and asylees to apply for a green card.
  • Allow certain children and family members of refugees to be considered as derivative applicants for refugee status. All such applicants must pass standard security checks.
  • Authorize the Secretary of State to designate certain groups as eligible for expedited adjudication as refugees.
  • Prevent newly resettled refugees from slipping into poverty by adjusting the per capita refugee resettlement grant level annually for inflation and the cost of living.

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The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.