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Related Categories: U.S. | Immigrant Rights
*New Homeland Security Secretary Should Make Reforms for Refugees*
by Human Rights First
Thursday Feb 24th, 2005 11:10 AM
*New Homeland Security Secretary Should Make Reforms for
Refugees*

US Commission on International Religious Freedom Recommends
Changes

Take Action: Urge New DHS Secretary to Help Refugees
February 24, 2005

*New Homeland Security Secretary Should Make Reforms for
Refugees*

US Commission on International Religious Freedom Recommends
Changes

Take Action: Urge New DHS Secretary to Help Refugees

http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/write_chertoff/ind5ud82r7tb567

On Tuesday, February 15, Judge Michael Chertoff was sworn in as
the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Secretary Chertoff now has the authority to make critical
changes that will improve the treatment of refugees, including
those who are jailed in U.S. immigration detention facilities.

High on the new Secretary's list should be the much needed
reforms recommended by the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom in its ground-breaking report
which was issued on February 8.

Findings of U.S. Religious Freedom Commission:

The Commission is a federal government commission, created by
Congress in 1998, to monitor religious freedom around the world
and advise the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress
on religious freedom. The Commission was authorized by Congress
in 2003 to undertake a study relating to asylum seekers in
"expedited removal," the deportation process that allows
immigration inspectors or border patrol officers to order
deportations, a power previously entrusted only to immigration
judges.

The Commission's study found that:

* There are serious problems in the implementation of the
expedited process that put asylum seekers at risk of improper
return - in 15% of cases observed by the experts, people who
expressed a fear of return were not given a chance to be
interviewed by an asylum officer;

* Most asylum seekers are held in jails or jail-like facilities
that the Commission found inappropriate for asylum seekers.
These conditions create a serious risk of psychological harm to
asylum seekers;

* About 32% of asylum seekers are jailed for 90 days or more;
the average length of detention in these jail-like facilities is
64 days. Release rates vary widely across the country, with
parole rates as low as 0.5% in New Orleans, 8.4% in New York and
3.8% in Newark, New Jersey;

* Asylum seekers who did not have an attorney had a much lower
chance of being granted asylum than those who did;

* There are significant variations in the rate at which
immigration judges grant asylum, and the approval of asylum
appeals in expedited cases has dropped significantly since
changes were made by the Department of Justice at the
immigration appeals board in 2002.

The Commission also found that there are serious impediments to
communication within the Department of Homeland Security and it
is exceedingly difficult to resolve inter-bureau issues.

The Commission's Recommendations:

The Commission made a series of critical recommendations,
including that:

* DHS should create an office, headed by a high-level official,
to address and coordinate asylum issues that cut across the
Department.

* DHS should not detain asylum seekers in inappropriate
jail-like facilities but instead in "non-jail like" facilities
like a model facility in Broward County, Florida.

* DHS should issue regulations to ensure that asylum seekers are
released from detention when they meet the relevant parole
standards, including establishing identity and no security risk.

Read the Commission's full findings and recommendations:
http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/ct/gpwVaMs1PqsN/

Human Rights First has documented the difficulties that refugees
face in these expedited procedures and in immigration jails,
most recently in its January 2004 report In Liberty's Shadow:
U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers in the Era of Homeland Security
- http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/ct/tpwVaMs1PqsL/. Human
Rights First has recommended that the Department of Homeland
Security create a high-level refugee protection position and
formal regulations to ensure that refugees who seek asylum are
not needlessly jailed. The Commission, after extensive study,
made the same recommendations.

New Legislation, Passed by House of Representatives, Puts
Refugees at Further Risk:

The Commission's report also shows just how difficult it already
is for refugees who flee from religious and other persecution to
navigate their way through the U.S. asylum system. Ironically,
the House of Representatives has just passed legislation that
will make it even more difficult for refugees to get asylum and
will allow them to be deported back into the hands of their
persecutors while their cases are still pending before U.S.
federal courts.

The proposed legislation, called the REAL ID Act (H.R. 418),
would give immigration officers and immigration judges broad
leeway to deny a refugee asylum based on alleged "statements"
taken in unreliable circumstances - the very kind of statements
that the Commission, in its report, concluded were "unreliable
and incomplete." The Commission's experts specifically found
that immigration judges frequently cited to these unreliable
documents when denying asylum.

Take Action:

http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/write_chertoff/ind5ud82r7tb567

Visit our website to learn more about the Department of Homeland
Security: http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/ct/g7wVaMs1PqsM/

Please encourage your colleagues to join us in this effort, by
signing up for this newsletter.

---------------------------------------------------------------

If you are not subscribed, and would like to continue receiving
"Asylum Protection," sign up here:
http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/human_rights_first/smp.tcl?nkey=ind5ud82r7tb567

Asylum News
http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/ct/gdwVaMs1PqsA/
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