A Real Opportunity to Improve Protections for the Persecuted

At a time when the Senate is considering the modernization of our immigration laws, they should also take measures to ensure the U.S. strengthens protections for those fleeing persecution. Christians and other faith groups are being targeted in many places around the world. Ethnic and political persecution is a significant problem as well.

The Senate immigration bill that is being marked up this week, S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, includes several provisions to increase the efficiency and improve protections for refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people. For example, the one-year filling deadline that has become an unnecessary hurdle and has excluded thousands of bona fide asylum-seekers from the safety of the United States would be repealed. Eliminating the one-year filing deadline would ensure those who have a valid persecution claim are not turned away because they did not file their claims within a year, which often happens due to challenges navigating the system in English and the extensive work involved in an asylum application. There are also provisions to increase asylum seekers' access to expert, trained asylum officers with jurisdiction over asylum claims, rather than requests being referred to a judge for lengthy and costly court proceedings. This provision would allow asylum seekers to explain their story in a non-adversarial setting and would increase effectiveness in the asylum process.

Additionally, the bill allows the administration to determine when there are specific groups of humanitarian concern in order to adopt efficient processes for adjudicating their claims. This would help religious minorities, in particular Jewish and evangelical Christian individuals, to be processed to come to the United States if they meet specific criteria.  Often, countries engage in persecution of specific minority faith groups. Empowering the President to designate that such groups are of special interest to the United States would allow the refugee resettlement program to be a more responsive, life-saving protection tool.

Lastly, the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in the United States will be critical to ensuring those who are accepted through the asylum and refugee programs become fully thriving members of our society. Provisions in the bill would establish a new Office of Citizenship and New Americans and strengthen the current process already assisting many refugees in becoming U.S. citizens. Many refugees have often undergone horrific circumstances overseas, and the Office of Citizenship and New Americans would provide greater support in assimilating into the United Sates. Furthermore, in expanding public-private partnerships in integration, stronger partnerships between churches, community service organizations, and faith-based NGOs will help them do the work they do best: welcoming the stranger to our shores and communities.

Our current immigration laws should be reformed to make the asylum process and refugee resettlement program more efficient, fairer and stronger. The current measures improving the asylum and refugee programs in the bill would save our government resources and ensure the processes already in place are working as efficiently and fairly as possible. In doing so, the United States will continue to provide refuge to the most vulnerable of immigrants and can carry on a strong tradition of being a humanitarian leader to provide refuge to those seeking safety and a new life.

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