Congressman Nadler: Republican Bill Would Leave Asylum Seekers and Refugees Stateless and in Legal Purgatory

Jul 26, 2017 Issues: Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, spoke out against the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2015, H.R. 391, and offered an amendment striking a section of the legislation that would unfairly and unreasonably limit the ability of individuals to seek asylum in the United States. The amendment would strike a provision that would deny asylum to individuals with any legal status in another country, no matter how limited. The amendment sought to prevent thousands of people from living in a state of legal limbo with no country willing to accept them on a permanent legal basis.

Below are Congressman Nadler's full remarks:

"Mr. Chairman, my amendment would strike section 9 of the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute, which would unfairly and unreasonably limit the ability of individuals to seek asylum.

"Under current law, asylum may not be granted to an individual who was “firmly resettled in another country prior to arriving in the United States.”  By regulation, an individual is considered to be “firmly resettled” if that person received an offer of permanent residence, citizenship, or some other permanent status from that third country.  In other words, if someone leaves the country of persecution and stops in another country, he will not be granted asylum here if that person receives an offer of permanent citizenship or residence or some other offer of permanent status from the country in the middle.  The bill, however, modifies this provision to declare that one will be deemed firmly resettled in the other country if the individual can live in that country “in any legal status without fear of persecution.”  While this may sound reasonable, it could leave thousands of people in a state of legal limbo with no country willing to accept them on a permanent legal basis.

"Many asylum-seekers arrive in the United States by way of another country, often obtaining temporary status in that other country as they pass through.  Even if they are permitted to live there permanently, this status frequently does not include authorization to work, the right to move freely within that country, access to public benefits, or the right to leave and re-enter the country at will.  Without these basic rights, it is absurd to consider them firmly resettled.

"Under this legislation, however, even that minimal legal status would make such individuals categorically ineligible for asylum.  An immigration judge would be prevented from even considering an asylum application, no matter how strong the claim of persecution in their home country.  And although this bill pertains to asylum-seekers, this provision amends a section of law that would seemingly apply to refugees as well.  Since nearly all refugees pass through another country while awaiting approval to enter the United States, this provision would nearly shut down the refugee resettlement program altogether.

"Furthermore, the bill does not require that the pass-through country actually be willing to accept the return of the individual if asylum is denied on the basis of firm resettlement.  Consequently, we could end up in a game of refugee ping pong.  We can secure a final order of deportation against an asylum-seeker, but have no realistic ability to return them to their home country without threatening their life, and find no other country willing to accept them on a permanent basis.  This provision would leave many asylum seekers and refugees stateless and in legal purgatory with no legal residence at all.  They would be in a state of limbo with no prospects for a durable solution in any country and no secure future for themselves and their children.  That is not just irrational, it is inhumane.

"Over the last few months, this Committee has considered bill after bill that would impose harsh restrictions on individuals fleeing unimaginable horrors in their home countries.  These people seek the protection that the United States has historically provided to those in need.  But the Majority would have us turn our backs on them instead.

"I urge my colleagues to oppose the underlying bill, and particularly to support this amendment, which would retain current law, and would avoid leaving in limbo large numbers of people who would otherwise have a legitimate claim of asylum in the U.S.  We should not leave people with no legal right to be in any state permanently, which this provision would do, I assume without proper consideration by the authors, because I cannot assume that was its intent. I urge its adoption and I yield back the balance of my time."