Refugee Protection Act Would Restore Justice For Asylum Seekers And Refugees, Says ACLU

March 16, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Refugee Protection Act late Monday, a bill that would strengthen legal protections for people seeking asylum in the United States. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI), makes critical improvements to U.S. asylum laws, which fall short of U.S. treaty obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauds Senator Leahy’s leadership in advancing the Refugee Protection Act and calls on the Senate to swiftly pass the bill.

“The Refugee Protection Act is a crucial step towards removing some of the obstacles that have prevented victims of persecution from obtaining refugee protection in the U.S.,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Senate should take Senator Leahy’s lead and pass this bill as soon as possible.”

The Refugee Protection Act would make several critical reforms to U.S. asylum laws. Notably, the bill clarifies definitions of what actions constitute “material support” to ensure that the innocent acts of asylum-seekers are not mislabeled as terrorist activities. The bill promotes efficient immigration proceedings by allowing the Attorney General to appoint immigration counsel where fair resolution or effective adjudication of proceedings would be served by appointment of counsel. The bill establishes a nationwide, secure “alternatives to detention” program, and institutes detention reforms to ensure access to counsel, medical care, religious practice and family contact visits. Finally, the bill restores judicial review to a fair and reasonable standard consistent with administrative law principles.

March 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the 1980 Refugee Act, a landmark law that sought to fulfill U.S. obligations under the Refugee Convention. Thirty years after enactment of the Refugee Act, asylum seekers are still denied due process and access to justice.

“Many victims of persecution escape harrowing conditions in high-conflict regions of the world, only to be denied refugee protection in the U.S. because of an overly broad definition of ‘material support,’” said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Untold numbers of asylum seekers are re-traumatized after arriving to the U.S. because they are locked up in detention for months – sometimes years – while pursuing their asylum case. Many asylum seekers with meritorious cases are denied refugee protection because they cannot afford private immigration counsel and cannot appeal their case to the federal courts due to jurisdictional bars. The Refugee Protection Act fixes many of these problems by ensuring due process and access to justice for victims of persecution who flee to the U.S.”

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