The Senate immigration bill would streamline immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrant populations, including those who are victims and witnesses of crime and political and domestic violence. It also provides protections to those fleeing persecution by addressing existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum, as well as protections for stateless persons. People who have been in the United States in lawful or employment authorized status, including under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for at least 10 years, are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence. This will allow people in these categories who have already been here for more than 10 years to adjust status immediately, instead of waiting another decade. The Senate bill also provides important improvements to asylum and refugee programs, including the elimination of the arbitrary one-year filing deadline.

While these provisions are commendable, questions have begun to emerge on how vulnerable undocumented populations are going to fare in the long, nearly 15-year march towards full legalization and citizenship. Even as undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows, certain provisions of the bill limit their access to health care and public benefits, for example, threatening their economic and social well-being.

International humanitarian parlance defines humanitarian protection as “the effort to protect the fundamental well-being of individuals caught up in certain conflicts or ‘man-made’ emergencies.” While this definition locates the subjects in the world of civil wars and emergencies, the locus of its meaning rests in the idea of “protecting fundamental well-being.”

If we juxtapose this definition with the current immigration proposal, what fundamental protections are necessary to ensure that we do not have 11 million people who are American in health only, but not in sickness?

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  • StevenHSchulman

    A question: many sources I see characterize the change that allows arriving aliens to interview for asylum (rather than applying for a judge in removal proceedings) as follows: “authorize asylum officers to grant asylum during
    credible fear interviews”
    I don’t read the bill this way, and in fact it would likely be the very unusual case where an asylum applicant could meet his/her burden during a CFI. S.744 isn’t specific, of course, but the more practical (and sensical) process would be to allow for an asylum officer interview post-CFI, once the applicant could find counsel and gather evidence. Is there background to this provision I am missing?

    • Cynthia Buiza

      The actual language on page 556 of the bill says this:

      5 Section 235(b)(1)(B)(ii) (8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(ii))
      6 is amended—
      7 (1) by striking ‘‘asylum.’’ and inserting ‘‘asylum by an asylum officer. The asylum officer, after
      9 conducting a nonadversarial asylum interview and
      10 seeking supervisory review, may grant asylum to the
      11 alien under section 208 or refer the case to a designee of the Attorney General, for a de novo asylum
      13 determination, for relief under the Convention
      14 Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, done at New
      16 York December 10, 1984, or for protection under
      17 section 241(b)(3).’’.

      The language would give expert, trained asylum officers jurisdiction over an asylum claim after credible fear is shown, rather than referring asylum seekers to a judge for lengthy and costly court proceedings.

      • StevenHSchulman

        Thanks for the response, but I don’t think this answers my question: what supports a conclusion that asylum would be granted “during credible fear interviews”? In fact, the provision seems to indicate the opposite — that if the officer determines that an alien has a credible fear of persecution, the alien “will be detained for further consideration of the application for asylum by an asylum officer….” This clearly indicates separate CFI and asylum officer interviews, not asylum granted during the CFI.

  • Natalie Fair-Albright

    Will the RPI application process include a health screening such as refugees get when they arrive or at least the health screening that people who apply for Permanent Residecy are required to have. These health screening have been valuable for the refugees and LPR applicants. I have seen people learn of everything from High Blood Pressure, Hansens’s Disease, Diabetes, Tuberculosis, Cataracts, Intestinal Parasites, Cancer and other disorders that caught early have resulted in these individuals living longer healthier lives. Many have avoided or not had access to doctors for years. This is a chance help not to be used to exclude anyone.

    • Cynthia Buiza

      Thank you, Natalie for this comment. You are right in pointing out the public health implications of this issue and using the model for refugee health screening is one way of thinking about it. The debate over health care coverage of a legalizing population in an immigration bill will be a fraught one. It will take all of the creativity and political will that we can muster to make sure this bill is really and truly inclusive.

  • Cynthia Buiza

    Natalie: has there been any additional effort to include provisions of the Refugee Protection Act of 2011 in an immigration bill in the past? In the House of Representatives, Congresswomen Judy Chu championed the POWER Act which provides increased protections for workers. Some of its provisions and principles are in the Senate immigration bill. Do you think a similar effort could be made on behalf of refugees?