Rep. Zoe Lofgren and U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy introduced bills in the House and Senate Thursday that they said would improve protection of refugees and asylum-seekers coming to the United States to flee persecution in their home nations.
Their Refugee Protection Act would reform the expedited removal process for asylum seekers pursuing their claims before the Asylum Office of the Department of Homeland Security. The bill requires the immigration detention system to adhere to basic humane treatment for asylum seekers and others with access to counsel, religious practice, and visits from family.
It also strengthens the law so those with actual ties to terrorist activities will continue to be denied entry to the United States. But the authors say it will protect innocent asylum seekers and refugees from being unfairly denied as a result of overly broad terrorism bars that over time have inadvertently swept in those who were actually victimized by terrorists.
“Americans have long been a compassionate people, offering a safe harbor to victims of devastating calamities and survivors of tortuous, brutal regimes,” Lofgren, D-San Jose, said in her news release. “The legislation we’re introducing today not only continues that proud tradition, it makes several needed improvements to ensure we can help those seeking freedom from persecution and oppression abroad.”
Lofgren is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Her bill is cosponsored by Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton; John Conyers, D-Mich.; Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; and Peter Welch, D-Vt. The Senate version is cosponsored by Senators Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; and and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“The Senate will soon turn to comprehensive immigration reform and the changes to the refugee system contained in this bill are a critical component of fixing our broken immigration system,” said Leahy, D-Vt. “As we address the many complex issues that face our immigration system, we must ensure that America upholds its longstanding commitment to refugee protection.”