The Senate’s Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744) includes critical reforms that protect refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and other vulnerable migrants. It presents an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy of humane refugee policies that could significantly influence the global refugee regime.

Why are the refugee protection provisions of S.744 so important?

First, it will eliminate unnecessary and costly barriers to protection by eliminating the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications, which causes so much unnecessary hardship. In the past, this barrier has led to denial, delay and rejection of requests for asylum protection and created unnecessary hurdles and inefficiencies in the asylum adjudication process. Additionally, S.744 grants jurisdiction to expertly trained officers over asylum claims after credible fear is shown, rather than referring them to a judge, which often leads to costly court proceedings. It provides overseas refugee applicants the opportunity to be represented by counsel during their adjudication process, allows certain refugee children to join their parents and families in the United States, and expands the Legal Orientation Program.  Finally, S.744 provides alternatives to detention and allows appointment of counsel in certain proceedings to ensure due process.

The United States has maintained a tradition of generosity and pragmatism when it comes to refugee protection issues. Since 1980, it has accepted almost 2 million refugees, a number higher than many other resettlement countries. The Refugee Act of 1980 which formally incorporated into United States law the international definition of refugee contained in the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, also emphasize that persecution, not provenance (geographic origins of people seeking asylum), was to be the basis for determining refugee eligibility. The current proposals contained in the Senate bill will further strengthen the U.S. refugee and asylum program, while any further negative changes as the bill moves through the Senate could weaken it.

How important is it to ensure that as this bill is further scrutinized and debated, these very important protections for refugee populations are upheld? Contending perspectives on these Senate provisions note that there is enough in current law that protects refugees and asylum seekers. They claim that it is better to look at the security implications of a generous refugee policy rather than tinkering further with it.

Do these criticism raise legitimate concerns about balancing security and protection?

In a world of multi-polar power shifts and asymmetrical wars, how can resettlement countries like the United States balance national security prerogatives and humanitarian obligations?

What do you see as the most important changes, good or bad, that S. 744 offers in asylum and refugee protection?

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  • Andrew Riley

    On asylum claims, the removal of the one-year time limit is critical, and I’m especially thrilled to see S. 744 as written allow folks who have had their asylum applications denied due to time-limit problems to reopen their cases. Both of those provisions are fundamental to any sensible asylum reform, and they have to be preserved in the final bill. The same is true of the protection for stateless persons; given that it’s a relatively uncommon situation for an individual to be in, some sensible, explicit provisions are necessary to protect those most vulnerable individuals.

    I’ll make the case that the security counter-argument to any refugee or asylum reform is a red herring: I have yet to see any convincing analysis or evidence which points to refugee or asylum claims as a disproportionate security threat, or any kind of widespread abuse of either protected status. The handful of exceptions we might point to don’t disprove the general rule: asylum and refugee status are critical provisions of the US’ international humanitarian policy, especially when we recognize our role in creating the conditions for many refugee populations to be displaced.